The other night I was on Rick Moran's radio program to discuss the Israeli election results with Professor Barry Rubin. The single most interesting observation offered by Professor Rubin, was that in Israel, across the broad political spectrum, almost no one thinks the Palestinians are a serious negotiating partner. There are very few Israelis who remain hopeful about the prospects of any peace process.
The Party, most associated with the "logic" of Israel withdrawing from West Bank settlements to foster the chance for peace and a two state solution, is Meretz. They won 3 seats of 120. This is a sign that Israelis understand the reality of their situation -- that the Palestinians are far more interested in negotiating an accord between Fatah and Hamas, than between Israel and the Palestinians. Israelis seem to understand that a withdrawal from the West Bank would more than likely bring the Gaza/southern Israel rocket situation home to millions more Israelis. That is not a definition of peace and security, or a two state solution.
Of course, Israeli politicians from the center left (Labor), center (Kadima), and center-right (Likud) will all pay lip service to the need for more useless peace processing with Mahmoud Abbas, since it is what the international community, and certainly Barack Obama, expect from Israel. Rubin says that even with Obama, the appointment of 75 year old George Mitchell to do the dirty work of shuttle diplomacy for the next few months, may be a signal that Obama will not over-invest in what, for all his good intentions, turn out to be a dead end process. Richard Holbrooke and Dennis Ross, the more skilled and experienced negotiators (and in the case of Holbrooke -- more hard-nosed and accomplished) , have been given other portfolios: Afghanistan/Pakistan, and Iran.
Rubin believes that the most likely result of the post-election sausage making process of forming a new Israel governing coalition of 61 Knesset members will lead to some power sharing arrangement between Likud and Kadima, with or without Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu Party. Rubin thinks the lead role in this coalition could go either way, but I think signs are pointing to Netanyahu having the upper hand.
The final tabulated results do not provide a simple right/left split as described by the mainstream media. The fractionalization of Israeli politics is more complex than left/right. The "right-wing" bloc of 65 seats , includes Likud, a center -right party, at 27, Yisrael Beiteinu, a secular, largely Russian, nationalist Party with 15, religious parties with about 19 seats (Sephardic 11, Ashkenazi 8), and National Union, a right wing party with 4. Israeli politics is certainly more focused on national security issues than American politics, but other issues do matter, particularly to some parties and their members. Will an ardently secular party led by a now more assertive Avigdor Lieberman, be part of a stable coalition on the right with ultra religious parties? It is hard to see how.
Many liberal Jews regard the Labor Party as a left wing peace Party, but its leader Ehud Barak, served as Defense Minister in the recent Gaza war. No Israeli leader will form a government coalition requiring the participation of the Arab Parties (11 seats won in this election) to create that majority. So the left does not really have 55 seats to start from, but 44. Rubin believes that both Netanyahu and Livni understand that having Kadima, Likud and maybe even Labor in a coalition, will provide a broader based support support level of near 70 seats in the center, that will make resisting American pressure (primarily on the issue of settlements and settlement expansion), far easier to do.
What is disturbing is that at the same time as Israelis seem to be coming to their senses in understanding the nature of their enemy (sorry, I mean negotiating partner), American Jews, seem to be swerving to the left on the conflict. In the recent Gaza war, J-Street could not decide which side to support. M. J. Rosenberg, Director of Policy Analysis for the Israeli Peace Forum, advertises that he stands squarely with Jimmy Carter, and admits that he loves reporter Helen Thomas, who despises Israel and is utterly contemptuous of anyone who supports the Jewish state. The left wing blogs are full of the Israel bashing trash of Glen Greenwald and Naomi Klein. In the U. S. Congress, a fourth of the Democratic members of the House went on record demanding Israel loosen up border restrictions in Gaza. Anyone who tells you that the support for Israel is strong in both Parties, and on both he left and right, is either blind or dishonest.
Rubin says that Israelis understand that the peace process with the Palestinians is a sideshow. There is no train leaving the station, nor any unique opportunity for peace. Tom Friedman gets paid a lot of money by the New York Times to recycle old columns on the wisdom and bravery of the Saudi "peace plan", but that peace plan amounts to a surrender by Israel to a right of return for Palestinian refugees. Israel cannot long term live with a Hamas-controlled Gaza, but Israel dealt Hamas a body blow last month that has put resolution of that issue on the back burner for now, and may have even damaged Hamas' standing in Gaza
The real Israeli political focus in the next year or two will be on Iran. Can Israel stop Iran from completing its nuclear weapons program if the US and its allies fail to do so (as will almost certainly be the case)? If Israel decides it needs to act, can it be successful in its effort? What will be the repercussions if it acts alone (or with some level of coordination with the United States)? These are questions that matter.
Negotiating a shelf agreement (a peace treaty that cannot be implemented but contains the "good ideas" that can some day bring peace!) with Mahmoud Abbas, who may not even be legally head of the PA any more, and has no authority in Gaza, seems like a colossal waste of time and energy. Palestinians, in every survey, do not hide that they prefer Israel to disappear. They have not come around to accepting Israel's permanence. It is not Israel that has resisted the notion of a two state solution for over 60 years.
Rubin argues that what has changed in the last ten years in the Arab world is a growing clash between the secular rulers, who are corrupt and repressive thugs, and the Islamists, who are of course repressive thugs as well, and want to replace them. This explains why many of the Sunni regimes were quietly rooting for Israel to deal a blow to Hezbollah in the 2006 war, and to Hamas last month, since both are seen as agents of Iran, the regime doing the most to destabilize the existing Sunni regimes, and capable of doing more, if it obtains the leverage available through a nuclear weapon.
A Palestinian state, were it to be created, would be a weak state, dominated by or threatened by extremist Islamists, and further the destabilization of the region. While the Arab regimes are not fans of Israel, and earn political points by their hostility to Israel, many of them understand that it is the Jewish state that is a force for stability in the region, and a Palestinian state that would create instability for them.
Richard Baehr is chief political correspondent of American Thinker.