The biggest loser? The peace process.
The real drama of Israeli politics will occur after the votes are tallied.
Only once before has a U.S. President applied overt diplomatic pressure on Palestinians the way President Obama did this week at the United Nations, as he pressured Palestine to rescind its request from the U.N. Security Council for immediate full membership status. Unfortunately, the precedent for this type of overt pressure is not particularly encouraging, neither for Israel, nor for the United States. It was in 2006 that President George W. Bush demanded that Hamas be allowed to participate in Palestinian general elections without it first having renounced the use of terrorism.
In his State Department speech last week, Barack Obama threw down the gauntlet to Benjamin Netanyahu. In the Oval Office a day later, and more fully in an address to Congress yesterday, Netanyahu picked it up and threw it right back. The question now is whether this clash can be turned into a new understanding between the United States and Israel that improves the prospects for the two-state solution both parties say they want. To bring this about, Obama will have to make further tweaks to his approach and rethink his declared stance on Palestinian refugees, among other matters.
The reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas is certainly bad news for peace. But this does not mean it is bad news as such. Because the most urgent need for the future survival of both Israel and Palestine is not peace. It is partition. And the reconciliation may actually be good news for the prospect of partition. It is, by now, abundantly clear that the two sides of the conflict are unable to reach a peace accord.
Of course, it’s not only Obama’s debacle. The debacle started when the world’s self-appointed enforcers of what they imagined as peace put the squeeze on Israel as it fought Hezbollah in the summer of 2006. It is true that the fighting was not going as well as it might have for the Jewish state.
The other shoe has now dropped in the current round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. In place of the partial freeze set to expire by the end of this month, Prime Minister Netanyahu intends to adopt more limited restraints on construction in the West Bank.
Should Jerusalem bring its bomb out of the basement? Israel, for at least the moment, is the sole possessor of atomic weapons in the Middle East, with an arsenal that now includes approximately 200 warheads. But it is also the only nuclear-armed nation to hide its cache behind a façade of official silence–neither confirming nor denying its existence. Iran’s mounting nuclear capability arguably demands a reconsideration of this stance. Explicitly announcing its nuclear status would have its advantages. It would upgrade Israel’s deterrent.