It’s Almost As If Netanyahu Really Likes Settlements


Two weeks ago, Bill Galston (who, incidentally, is on the board of an organization that just hired AIPAC’s communications director) wrote:

[A]t some point Netanyahu will have to acknowledge that if he truly wants peace, he’ll need a different coalition—namely, the one that should have formed two years ago. Otherwise put: The decision that the current coalition must be preserved at all costs would represent the clearest possible evidence that this round of negotiations isn’t serious.

Well, speaking as an American Jew and as a sincere friend of Israel, I hope it is serious. If the negotiations end without result, I want it to be clear to the United States (and to those portions of the world that have kept an open mind) that the failure was not Israel’s fault. “A decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind” was more than a throwaway phrase in 1776, and it still is.

Then yesterday Jeffrey Goldberg offered a suggestion:

Really more of a modest suggestion: Why not risk your governing coalition and impose a total freeze on settlement growth outside of the greater Jerusalem area? This way, you’ll show the world, and the Palestinians — who are governed, on the West Bank, at least, by a group of true moderates, who have done a great deal for your security over the past year — that you are serious about grappling with the challenges before you. And you’ll show President Obama that you mean it when you say that it is the Iranian nutters, and not the Palestinians, who pose an existential threat to Israel. Yes, risking your coalition means you would have to induce Tsipi Livni’s opposition Kadima party into the government, but now seems as good a moment as any. At the very least, you’ll gain a foreign minister who isn’t an international embarrassment. And you might convince at least a few settlers — those outside the security fence, especially — that it would be best for them to move back to Israel and reinvigorate Zionism.

At some point don’t we need to give this game up? You can make the case that even if the current Israeli government were much more reasonable than it in fact is that there still wouldn’t be a peace deal thanks to bad behavior on the Palestinian side. But it’s actually not puzzling at all why Netanyahu doesn’t form a different coalition and agree to a settlement freeze—Netanyahu favors settlement building. This is the whole trajectory of his political career, from leading the charge against the Oslo Agreement to rump Likud in a rebellion against Ariel Sharon to forming a coalition with Avigdor Lieberman. The guy’s not a fool. He knows what he’s doing.