Former Shabak chief and current Israeli minister, Yaakov Peri, visiting the IAEA offiices in Vienna endorsed the Arab League peace initiative. Peri even said he was doing so “on behalf of the government.” Though later he said he “hoped” Bibi Netanyahu agreed with him. Fat chance. With three ministers in the past two weeks rejecting the two-state solution which serves as the basis of U.S. diplomacy in the region, it’s hopeless for Peri to expect he’s anything but a lone wolf. Not even the chair of his own party, Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid, endorses the initiative.
But there are several interesting aspects to this nonetheless. First, it shows tremendous disarray in the governing coalition. Netanyahu came out of the last election in a decidedly weaker political posture. Now, this Al Monitor story reveals that the prime minister has almost no standing in the party’s inner echelons. The machinery of the party are set to be taken over by settler activists who are decidedly more extreme than even he is (hard as this may be to believe). Mazal Mullalem in her article, notes that the party inside game is liable to hamstring Netanyahu if he ever decides to try to negotiate a solution with the Palestinians.
I’d say on the contrary, it serves Bibi’s interests well if his far-right prevents him from doing something he doesn’t want to do anyway. Political power doesn’t derive, for him, from doing the bidding of John Kerry or Barack Obama, but rather from satisfying the settlers of Gush Etzion. Israelis and other observers of Israeli politics misunderstand the Likud if they view it as a party in conflict between the radical settler wing and the “more pragmatic” types like Netanyahu. The former party elders like Benny Begin and Dan Meridor were shown the door in the last party primaries. There is no more pragmatic wing in Likud.
Another point worth mentioning is that Peri is now the second Israeli former senior intelligence chief in as many days to not only affirm the two-state solution, but to endorse a return to 1967 borders. Meir Dagan did that yesterday at the Peres birthday party conference, which I like to call “Shimmy’s Shindig.” What’s important about this is that Israel’s intelligence élite endorses a policy that is far more radical (if I may use that term) than that of anyone in the ruling political élite. When your security mavens, the ones you pay to be hawks, tell you that being hawkish on this issue may kill you…then “something’s happening here and you don’t know what it is,” do you Mr. Netanyahu??
Think of it this way: if Barack Obama calls in his CIA and FBI directors and military intelligence chiefs, and asks them whether he should negotiate with Iran or go to war–and they tell him negotiate and he goes to war–then you’d have to say there’s something fundamentally dysfunctional about Obama. That’s precisely the case with Netanyahu. Dagan said yesterday that if Israel didn’t grasp the golden opportunity offered it, then the result will be dire. Now Peri has confirmed that hawks, real ones who’ve fought bravely on the battlefield for their country as opposed to chicken hawks like Bibi, know how to be doves when the situation calls for it. I’m with the hawks (at least Dagan and Peri) on this one.
There is little chance that Peri will influence government policy. But I find it hopeful, even in a very small way, that this split exists.