Saturday, February 28, 2009

Livni Sets the Bar: Anything less than a Two-State Solution is Unacceptable

Two weeks ago, when I submitted my post on the Israeli elections, I called for the formation of a unity government. Together the Likud and Kadima could have offered the Israeli electorate for the first time in years a strong government which represented the majority of the state’s electorate. With Shimon Peres calling on Benjamin Netanyahu to form a government just a little over a week ago, it seems clear now that Kadima, under Tzipi Livni, will not join the government following Netanyahu’s refusal to state that he supports the ideal of a two-state solution: Israel and Palestine, side-by-side. Netanyahu knows how important it is to incorporate moderate forces in his government however he too has his limits. And, sadly, it seems that he has remained stuck in the past. His ideology is outdated and has not transformed during the last decade and strikingly resembles the once narrow-minded leaders of the Likud, from Menahem Begin to Yitzhak Shamir.

Like his former party leaders, perhaps in a more sophisticated way, it seems that Netanyahu still believes that reconciliation with the Palestinians can be reached on the basis of allotting them some type of expanded autonomy. This is clarified by his recent interview in the Washington Post stating that “Palestinians should have the ability to govern their lives,” and that he “personally intend[s] to take charge of a government committee that will regularly address the needs of the Palestinian economy in the West Bank.” Note his stress on economic development and his inability talk of Palestinian independence.

Netanyahu’s refusal to recognize the two-state solution goes beyond on the tough negotiator holding his cards closely, attempting to clarify to the Palestinians that nothing is for free and they will have to prove themselves. No, this decision emerges from a failed ideology that in some perverse way believes that Israel can continue to hold onto the West Bank and keep Gaza isolated from the world. And, that there is room to continue to enlarge the Jewish settlements and the Palestinians will eventually come around.

With the new Obama government genuinely supporting a two-state solution, they need to unite together with the Palestinians and make clear to Netanyahu that if he does not publicly recognize the right of the Palestinians to an independent state then there is no reason whatsoever to negotiate. And, it is for this reason the Tzipi Livni needs to be applauded; she has set the bar. Hopefully, she will remain firm in her position and will withstand internal party pressures coming from Shaul Mofaz, her main competitor in the Kadima party. Our eyes also need to be watching Ehud Barak, the Labor party leader, who can undermine Livni’s move by cutting a deal with Netanyahu to remain Defense Minister. In the future, I will relate to internal Palestinian issues, but it is important to state that Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas is demanding from HAMAS to recognize Israel as a precondition to a Palestinian unity government. What a historical irony.