Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Private Shift, or Just a Crafty Gambit?

I am, to say the least, a Netanyahu-skeptic. This, in fact, is a reassuring constant in my life -- while my politics on Israel have shifted dramatically (both left and right) over the course of my lifetime, one of my earliest memories of Israeli politics was my synagogue reacting with horror when Netanyahu became Prime Minister the first time around the mid-1990s. The general consensus then was that he was a right-wing nutcase.

And indeed, when Jennifer Rubin wonders why most Jewish organizations aren't raising more hackles about Obama's alleged maltreatment of the Israeli government, it is that memory I return to -- to wit, it might because many American Jewish leaders and many Jewish synagogue-attendees never really liked Netanyahu in the first place, and blame him far more than President Obama for any diminution of Israel's standing with the US (not to mention worldwide). So, while Rubin declares that "self-deluded American Jewish communal leaders" are now part of the "unprecedented array of threats" facing Israel, many of these leaders may well believe that self-aggrandizing "leaders" like Netanyahu and right-wing enablers like Rubin who more deserve that label.

But anyway. The point is, I'm genuinely skeptical over whether PM Netanyahu has a serious commitment to forging a two-state solution with secured borders, one which would preserve Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. I don't know if, in his heart of hearts, he recognizes the gravity of the threat. And while he sometimes spouts the right lines in public, there is no urgency and very little tangible movement on his part -- making me worry it is just a platitude for public consumption.

However, Ha'aretz has an interesting report of proceedings at an Israeli cabinet meeting:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu surprised many of the participants in the weekly cabinet meeting Sunday when he embarked on a monologue praising the idea of parting from the Palestinians and in relinquishing portions of the West Bank. Netanyahu said the number of Palestinians and Jews between the Jordan River and the sea "is irrelevant" and that it's more important to "preserve a solid Jewish majority inside the State of Israel."

The PM made these statements during a discussion on a report by the Jewish People Policy Institute on demographic changes among Jews and Palestinians in Israel and the West Bank.

Members of the institute presented the demographic data of Prof. Sergio DellaPergola, which show that, in a number of years, the demographic trends will result in a Palestinian majority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

Ministers Limor Livnat and Uzi Landau were surprised by the data and asked that the data of other experts be presented - for example, the data of Yoram Ettinger, who is affiliated with the right. The right argue that the demographic threat to the State of Israel is not so serious.

The prime minister cut short the discussion and surprised those present with previously unspoken sentiments about the future Israeli presence in the West Bank.

"The debate over how many Jews and how many Palestinians will be between the Jordan and the sea is irrelevant," Netanyahu said. "It does not matter to me whether there are half a million more Palestinians or less because I have no wish to annex them into Israel. I want to separate from them so that they will not be Israeli citizens. I am interested that there be a solid Jewish majority inside the State of Israel. Inside its borders, as these will be defined," Netanyahu explained.

Aides of the PM realized how politically explosive his statements were and asked all those present in the room to avoid disseminating the details.

It's that last part which intrigues me, because it is evidence that Netanyahu is making these claims now in private, in cabinet meetings dominated by his right-wing allies -- i.e., in a forum where it explicitly not designed for public consumption, to the political allies who most needed to hear it. Of course, this could be naivety on my part -- Bibi may have been well aware that his statements would be leaked, and so it might be just as good as a public statement. It's a little 11-dimensional chess for my tastes, but it's hardly out of the question.

Still, it is heartening that even a hardcore irredentist like Netanyahu may finally be starting to get it, and be taking the first steps to whipping his cabinet into shape. I'm dubious about Bibi's ability to be a leader, but he's the leader Israel has, so we have no choice but to hope.

1 comment:

Rebecca said...

Despite the fact that the cabinet meetings are supposed to be confidential, the discussions are regularly leaked to the Israeli press almost immediately - so it's not surprising these remarks came out yesterday. When I hear Bibi say things like this I hope it indicates that he's coming closer to acknowledging reality.