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Second, the strategy appears to have been aimed at forging greater Israeli unity and taking the wind out of the opposition’s sails. In the months leading up to his Bar-Ilan speech, Netanyahu and opposition leader Tzipi Livni were bitterly at odds over the Palestinian-state issue, with Livni claiming it was Netanyahu’s recalcitrance that was preventing peace with the Palestinians and ruining Israel’s image in the world. After June 14, Livni lost that weapon against Netanyahu and indeed has been more or less drifting in the political wilderness.
More significantly, Netanyahu’s speech was aimed both at the Israeli left of center and right of center. It emphasized the desirability of ceasing to rule over the Palestinians, an issue particularly important to the former; and, in the context of demilitarization, the gravity of Israel’s security needs, of particular concern to the latter. A recent poll indeed indicates that Netanyahu and his coalition are doing much better than Livni and the opposition. Netanyahu’s successful blending of mainstream right- and left-wing themes in his Jewish-state strategy undoubtedly has something to do with it.
Third, and most important, Netanyahu’s strategy is aimed, as one Israeli analyst has put it, at “convinc[ing] the U.S. administration that he is not the factor obstructing its efforts to make progress on the Israeli-Palestinian track.” There, it is harder to say that it’s working.
If President Barack Obama is impressed by the fact that the Palestinians reject even the possibility of recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, he has yet to show it. Not even the fact that Abbas, after continuing to stonewall negotiations despite Netanyahu’s Bar-Ilan speech and despite the ten-month settlement moratorium he instated last November, finally entered the talks in September only to promptly leave them with the demand that Netanyahu extend the freeze, seems to have suggested to the administration that the classic “two-state solution” paradigm is, once again, flawed and overlooks the Palestinians’ deep-seated inability to compromise with Israel.
Instead, this month the administration persisted in zealous efforts to get the sides to restart the talks, which seemed to have become an obsessive goal divorced from the empirical record. For Israel, this means ongoing pressure and potential internal dissension, balanced by no gain. If the U.S. involvement has now waned, it’s only because of the upcoming elections. However they turn out, it seems safe to say that for Netanyahu “convinc[ing] the U.S. that he is not the factor obstructing [a solution]” will continue to be hard work.
To sum up, Netanyahu’s Jewish-state strategy appears to have been effective in restoring Israel’s standing as a party that has demands of its own and does not just submit to demands; and particularly in enhancing Israeli unity and weakening Netanyahu’s opposition. That the strategy has—for any dispassionate onlooker—exposed the Palestinians’ ongoing extremism does not, however, seem to have lifted the blinders from a president deeply invested in the notion of compensating them for ostensible grievances.
Was the Jewish-state strategy, then, a wise one for Netanyahu to adopt, or at least the best one available?
Not necessarily. The notion of a sovereign Arab state squeezed in beside Israel in the tiny, forty-mile-wide territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan is inherently gravely dangerous. It may seem almost tautological that, if such a state were to be effectively demilitarized as Netanyahu posits, it could not threaten Israel. But as T. S. Eliot once observed, “Between the idea/And the reality…Falls the shadow.” Demilitarization as stipulated in a formal peace agreement could easily turn into something else, especially if negotiated on the Israeli side by a prime minister less deep and serious than Netanyahu.
That said, the strategy at this point appears to be doing more good than harm.
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