JERUSALEM – Speculation has been building in Israeli media and political circles that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might be forced to reshuffle his governing coalition in order to increase the chances of reaching a peace deal with the Palestinian Authority.
According to reports in Haaretz and the Times of Israel, Netanyahu has been trying to convince Jewish Home Party leader and Minister of Economics Naftali Bennett and senior Likud ministers such as Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar that he would not jeopardize Israel’s security or compromise on issues like the fate of the Jordan Valley, Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees.
Speaking at a year-end economics conference sponsored by the Calcalist business newspaper, Ya’alon said that if he had to choose between a European Union boycott of Israel and compromising Israeli security that leads to endangering civilian population centers, he could live with a boycott.
“I don’t want a boycott,” Ya’alon told conference participants. “However, if the alternative to a European boycott is rockets from Nablus, Jenin and Ramallah on our cities, on Ben Gurion Airport, then… I prefer the European boycott.” Referring to western governments, Ya’alon added, “It is a matter of ignorance and unfamiliarity with the Middle East: its demographics, its mentality, and its culture.”
Shas, United Torah Judaism, and the Labor Party have said publicly that they would be willing to join the coalition if Jewish Home left the government on the eve of a peace agreement with the Palestinians. But no one is sure that the new “framework agreement plan” that Secretary of State John Kerry is bringing to Jerusalem and Ramallah this week will be amenable to either Netanyahu or PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
Bennett, Ya’alon and Sa’ar have reportedly expressed consternation over Israeli concessions to the Palestinians and Kerry – from releasing terrorists to land and security compromises – without securing any concessions from Abbas on such issues as recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, reasonable land swaps in Judea and Samaria, and deposing Hamas from power in the Gaza Strip.
Meanwhile, Israel’s Channel 10 News reported that Netanyahu was inclined to continue Israel-PA talks for another year on the basis of Kerry’s plan, which is highlighted by Palestinian statehood as per the pre-1967 lines. The Saudi Al Watan newspaper said that the plan would trigger a political tradeoff between Netanyahu and Abbas, whereby Israel would recognize the pre-1967 borders as the foundation for a future Palestinian state while the Palestinians would acknowledge Israel as the Jewish homeland.