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Whither Israel’s New Government?

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to form a coalition government with Kadima and cancel planned early elections has inspired endless speculation as to his motives. Some maintain he was seeking a unity government in order to bolster his position with regard to Iran. Others point to his desire to be better able to deal with certain domestic issues such as election reform and changes to the Tal Law.

The prime minister himself made mention of Israel’s dealings with the Palestinians, and that’s what drew our immediate attention – though the Tal Law obviously represents an enormously important concern in the long run.

When he announced his new coalition in a joint press conference with Kadima head Shaul Mofaz, Mr. Netanyahu spoke of the resumption of talks with the Palestinians as one of his four top priorities for the new government and said both he and Mr. Mofaz had agreed to work to renew the peace process.

In a letter to PA President Mahmoud Abbas following the new coalition agreement, the prime minister said the new government has created a new opportunity to move the peace process forward, adding that he wished to restart negotiations as soon as possible.

As a number of commentators have pointed out, Mr. Netanyahu had repeatedly told President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton that he could not advance the peace process due to the composition of his coalition. Indeed, according to Haaretz and other sources, Secretary Clinton spoke with the prime minister following the announcement of the new government and told him that with Kadima now part of the coalition, she was waiting to see how he would move the diplomatic process forward.

One has to wonder what the prime minister has in mind. In a recent New York Times op-ed article, three prominent Israeli leftists blamed the lack of progress in the peace process on “a lack of trust” between the parties. Their solution is palpably absurd: Israel needs to take unilateral steps “to advance the reality of two states based on the 1967 borders, with land swaps – regardless of whether Palestinian leaders have agreed to accept it.”

But given that even those far from the right-wing camp acknowledge that the chances for a bilateral agreement are virtually non-existent, what exactly does Prime Minister Netanyahu think he should have done before that he thinks he can do now?

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