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Monday, January 23, 2006

Israel Election Update # 2 - Much Ado About Nothing

Since yesterday's update dealt mostly with Labor's positions on the issues, and since Bibi Netanyahu made a major speech last night, I thought today would be a good day to look at the Likud.

Likud leader Bibi Netanyahu spoke last night at the Herzliya Conference and offered 'concessions' to the 'Palestinians.' Why an Israeli leader running for elected office needs to pander to the 'Palestinians' is a separate issue, which goes far beyond the elections. What's important to realize is that Netanyahu's 'concessions' are much ado about nothing. Let's see why:

Netanyahu said that he would begin by removing settlement outposts and then gradually remove IDF checkpoints to allow unhindered Palestinian travel. He said that a Likud-led government would not be in favor of reoccupying or annexing Palestinian populated areas of Judea and Samaria.

If Netanyahu and the Likud were to win the elections, whether Netanyahu would actually remove 'settlement outposts' depends on who is in the government with him. In any event, it appears a small price to pay compared with Kadima and Labor, both of which would remove actual 'settlements.'

Removing IDF checkpoints is unlikely to happen unless the 'Palestinians' make a real effort to curb terrorism. Although Netanyahu did sign the Why Why Wye Agreement in 1998, I think he learned his lesson from the 'Palestinians'' failure to fulfill their obligations under that agreement. Moreover, and most importantly, one must read between the lines of what Netanyahu says and realize that he is (and knows he is) the furthest to the right of the electable candidates for Prime Minister. Netanyahu knows that when the time comes to form a coalition, the right's choice is going to be to go with Netanyahu or to be in the opposition. Those to his left, on the other hand, could go to Kadima and keep Netanyahu from forming a coalition at all. That's why Netanyahu makes statements about removing 'outposts' and roadblocks - he is trying to win back some of the Likud defectors to Kadima.

'Re-occupying or re-annexing' 'Palestinian' populated areas of Judea and Samaria is only going to happen if there is an all-out war. And even then, we're a long way from putting civilians back into places like Sa-Nur and Homesh. Those on the ideological right have to recognize that reality. Take what you can get now.

"In the frameworks of a peace agreement, a government under my leadership would agree to make real territorial concessions but will not compromise our security borders," Netanyahu said. "We want there to be less friction. We want to remove outposts to help the Palestinian population. We will not reoccupy the Palestinian population."

With whom does anyone think Netanyahu is going to make a peace agreement? Abu Mazen? Hamas? Let's be serious folks. If Netanyahu were the leader of Kadima or Labor, you'd see talk of a unilateral withdrawal here. It's in the next paragraph. However....

Netanyahu outlined five points that will be the guidelines in the Likud's platform on diplomatic and security issues: "Yes to compromises within a peace agreement, yes to security borders, no to a unilateral withdrawal, yes to moving the security fence and yes to decreasing the friction with the Palestinians."

Given that Netanyahu needs to attract voters from Kadima to have a chance of being the largest party and the one invited by the President to form the next government, I think this is the best we can expect from him before the elections.

The Likud's "security borders" include the Jordan Valley, the Golan Heights, Judean desert, an undivided Jerusalem, settlement blocs in Judea and Samaria, and the hilltops overlooking Ben-Gurion Airport, the Gush Dan region and Road 443.

This is just about all of Samaria and most of Judea on my map (especially if you consider that Netanyahu's 'settlement blocs' may include the Beit El - Ofra - Shilo block in Samaria), while Olmert's and Peretz's clearly won't. Look at a map and see for yourselves.

Netanyahu said that he would be willing to negotiate a permanent-status accord with a responsible Palestinian leadership while sticking to those borders on the basis of reciprocity. Any agreement reached with the Palestinians would then be brought to a vote among the Israeli people in a national referendum.

Let's keep some things in mind: There is no 'responsible Palestinian leadership' and Wednesday's 'Palestinian election' is likely to make sure that there won't be one for the foreseeable future. Second, even if there were to be a 'responsible Palestinian leadership,' the chances of it being able to sell an agreement having the borders that Netanyahu is demanding is highly unlikely. Third, the chances of the 'Palestinians' fulfilling any sort of reciprocity - assuming Netanyahu has the spine to stick to it - are somewhere between slim and none. And fourth, Netanyahu is committing now to the referendum that Sharon avoided.

Regarding a 'referendum' it's important to keep in mind that Ehud Olmert is right about one thing:

We are tired of fighting, we are tired of being courageous, we are tired of winning, we are tired of defeating our enemies, we want that we will be able to live in an entirely different environment of relations with our enemies.
But Israelis are also victims of the Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) syndrome. The reason that surveys show things like 60% of Israelis would give up parts of Jerusalem in a 'peace settlement' is because people in Haifa and Tel Aviv and Ashdod who have been afraid to come to Jerusalem for the last five years have no clue what that means for Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, I would bet that the Jewish population will be 80-90% against those kinds of concessions. If a referendum is a package deal, it will affect most of the country's backyard. I'm not convinced that the vote will be so overwhelmingly in favor. And a Netanyahu-led government is much more likely than an Olmert-led government to include a supermajority requirement in a referendum that will ensure that the Arab vote will not tip the balance. I'm not convinced it will pass so easily.

There's one caveat to this analysis: As I pointed out yesterday, Netanyahu and all Israeli politicians are not always truthful (and that's being kind to them). Could Netanyahu do what Sharon and Rabin did on the security issue? Absolutely. But we already know that Olmert and Peretz will make dangerous unilateral concessions. Netanyahu is the only one of the three leaders with a chance to be Prime Minister who might not make them. Those Israelis who worry about Israel's security must keep that in mind when they go to the polls on March 28.


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