Reading the New Government in Jerusalem: Is Israel on Path to Isolation?
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister-designate, clearly hoped to win international favor by signing up his Labor Party rivals to share power in a new government. But the coalition contract fails to mention a two-state solution -- which could isolate Israel on the world stage.
The new government in Israel could strain ties with both Europe and America if it fails to commit to a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians, leaders from Washington to Jerusalem have said, but it's not yet clear whether the presence of Ehud Barak and his Labor Party in the new coalition will help salvage relations.
Can Barak make a difference?
"The status quo is unsustainable," Obama had already told reporters in Washington on Tuesday. "It is critical for us to advance a two-state solution where Israelis and Palestinians can live side by side in their own states with peace and security."
Asked whether Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu's new coalition would make things easier -- given that an anti-Arab nationalist like Avigdor Lieberman was in line to become foreign minister -- Obama said, "It's not easier than it was, but I think it's just as necessary."
European foreign policy chief Javier Solana took a similar line in mid-March after a meeting with Egyptian and Palestinian Authority foreign ministers in Brussels. "Let me say very clearly that the way the European Union will relate with a government that is not committed to a two-state solution will be very, very different," he said on March 17. "They (the Israelis) know it, and we have to keep on saying that."
Israel's outgoing prime minister, Ehud Olmert, warned during a cabinet meeting on Sunday in Jerusalem that Netanyahu could alienate Israel from other governments by veering too far to the right. "Anyone who goes into a government whose coalition guidelines do not include the principle of two states for two peoples," Olmert said, according to the French news wire AFP, "is knowingly liable to subject Israel to isolation, the likes of which it has never known since its establishment … History will not forgive them."
But the deal forged by Netanyahu on Tuesday with Barak and his left-leaning Labor Party made a few concessions that could keep the government within the norms of international diplomacy. Labor insisted on writing two points into the coalition agreement, including an acceptance of all previous international agreements and a commitment to work for full regional peace. These points would let the government maintain a commitment to a two-state solution -- something Netanyahu's other coalition partners, the ultra-orthodox Shas party and the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home), have resisted.
The European press has largely been skeptical. Britain's Financial Times on Wednesday called Labor's presence in the government a "fig-leaf" for Israel's rightward lurch. "It gives (Netanyahu's) irredentist Likud a veneer of centrist moderation and a 66-member bloc -- with the far-right Yisrael Beteinu of Avigdor Lieberman and the ultraorthodox Sephardic party Shas as well as Labor -- but only if Mr. Barak can deliver his party. This tin-eared former army chief of staff may instead have split Labor and driven a final nail into its coffin."
The last 10 years, the paper writes, have seen "the slow-motion suicide of Labor, the party of Israel's founding fathers, which now has so little influence on Israel's future."
The Süddeutsche Zeitung, a center-left daily, wrote Thursday that Netanyahu's unlikely coalition is already a lame-duck government, even if it hasn't yet started its first day of work. "How Netanyahu intends to govern remains his secret," writes Thorsten Schmitz. "(His) government stands for stalemate and status quo. Israel's path to international isolation has been signaled."
But the German weekly Die Zeit sounds more optimistic. Its editor-in-chief, Josef Joffe, writes that the Labor-Likud deal was "absurd, but necessary … The reflexive reaction from outside Israel ('the end of all peace') is not only exaggerated, but misleading. Because the coalition deal binds Israel to all previous commitments, national as well as international … Even more important, the defense minister -- Ehud Barak -- will be allowed to participate in all 'diplomatic processes.' Barak, in other words, a two-state champion, will be involved in any further deals."
msm -- with wire reports
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