The fifth neighbor, the Palestinian Authority is totally uninterested in negotiating toward peace. Its strategy revolves around trying to establish unilateral independence based on the U.N. General Assembly, which lightly bestowed on it the status of non-member state. Only Jordan, among the neighbors, can be deemed to be friendly when it counts, given the monarchy’s own interests.
This looks like a rather grim strategic situation and it is one generally disregarded by the West. Yet Israel has maneuvering room:
Prospects for a third intifada (guerrilla-terrorist war) in the P.A. have dissipated for the moment. A quarrel between Hamas and the Cairo regime has cut off arms and reduced political support within Egypt for Hamas. In Lebanon, Hizballah has to cope with the loss of its patron, Syria. And, the P.A.’s diplomatic strategy is fruitless, incapable of bringing about change.
Finally, the Sunni-Shia clash among contending Islamists and the need for quiet by Islamist regimes trying to consolidate power at home are also factors making Israel’s situation easier.
The glib idea that the situation is “unsustainable” is no truer than it has been for most of the past 65 years. Aside from the momentous decision on whether to attack Iranian nuclear facilities—something that won’t be a serious prospect in the next year—the Netanyahu government doesn’t have many big decisions on foreign policy.
And if Bennett’s presence protects the settlements, the absence of any serious “peace process” means that this will be an easy task, except for some potentially nasty skirmishes over funding. So desperate is the effort to portray Bennett as the winner that even the coalition agreement’s not talking about the peace process is claimed as evidence. Obviously, if anything had actually been written to limit Netanyahu’s autonomy on the issue, one could make the case far better. Bennett’s failure to get assurances on that point is hardly a sign of victory for him. Quite the opposite.
As this analysis indicates, the main battles will be over budget, economic, and social issues. In particular, Bennett and Lapid are committed to reduce Haredi benefits. Note that this isn’t an “anti-religious” issue because Bennett’s party is largely religious. While the most visible issue is army service, Haredi housing and child benefits might be more likely areas for change.
Indeed, perhaps the most interesting cabinet appointment is that of Rabbi Shai Piron, from Lapid’s party, as education minister. In the past, such a selection would have caused a firestorm of protest among secular Israelis. But Piron is a liberal rabbi and will likely spend more time trying to modernize religious education than to affect the secular aspects of teaching.
The problem of this government is more likely to be one of personalities, marginal issues that get blown up in importance, and jockeying for financial benefits for different constituencies. There will be a lot of fireworks but far fewer explosions. And if any coalition party wants to test Netanyahu’s power at the polls before the government’s four-year-long term ends, they know that he will win the prime minister-ship again.
Originally published at Rubin Reports.Barry Rubin
About the Author: Professor Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. See the GLORIA/MERIA site at www.gloria-center.org.
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