Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel
Like any adept politician, re-elected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has begun to distance himself from his campaign rhetoric. Over the past few days, Netanyahu has embarked on an apology tour designed to ameliorate the ire inspired by his comments on Arab-Israelis, his rejection of a possible Palestinian state, and his views on relations with the US. Apologies are not policies, however.
In the best interest of Israel, the Prime Minister must now pursue a pragmatic foreign policy. Most importantly, he must return to the two-state solution, cease fear mongering regarding Iran, and select a new foreign minister with care.
Netanyahu was not always so hawkish on foreign policy. For example, his position on Palestine today is a far cry from his olive branch policies a couple of years ago. In 2009, the newly elected PM momentously supported a demilitarized Palestinian state, and publicly stated, “Palestinian neighbors, and to the leadership of the Palestinian Authority: Let us begin peace negotiations immediately, without preconditions.” From 2010 to 2011, said negotiations did occur between the Prime Minister and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, mediated by the US.
The talks did not go well, however, ending with Hamas attacks and the expiration of a freeze on Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank. Subsequent talks in 2013-2014 met with a similar fate, and soon after they began, rockets began flying across Gaza in the summer of 2014. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, over 2,000 people, mostly Palestinian civilians, died in the following conflict.
One would hope that Netanyahu truly desires a peaceful solution for Israel and Palestine and that past efforts were serious rather than mere political ploys. It would behoove him to do so, considering that the United States, which doles out more than 3.5 billion dollars annually to Israel, has a very clear stance:
“We believe that two states is the best path forward for Israel’s security, for Palestinian aspirations, and for regional stability. That’s our view, and that continues to be our view.” – President Obama, 3/24/15 Press Conference
Even if he does desire such a solution, Netanyahu has consistently flipped-flopped on the most crucial issue – settlement building in the West Bank. For example, in 2010, when peace talks were at their most promising point, Netanyahu succumbed to pressure from “pro-settler parties in his right wing coalition government.” While Israel does have a housing shortage that has been particularly confounding for the Netanyahu administration, it surely is not worth losing lives and Israel’s credibility in the US and Europe.
If Netanyahu wants to be the international statesman that he most certainly aspires to be, he should restart the peace-building process. Back in 2010, Netanyahu’s political ambitions to keep his then-shaky coalition alive were a large part of the reason for the end of talks in 2010. Now in 2015, given that Likud, Netanyahu’s center-right party, holds a larger plurality in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, the Prime Minister has no reason to succumb to hardliner parties once again.
In the interest of Israel, inflammatory campaign politics concerning Iran must end as well.
The notion that completing the nuke deal currently under negotiation will automatically result in a nuclear armed Iran is fear mongering that should cease after the election. Iran will not acquire nuclear warheads following a few pen strokes in a Swiss ski resort; it takes considerable amounts of time and money to enrich and weaponize uranium. In fact, the deal, which will most likely include clauses on more stringent inspections, can only make nuclear weapons harder to obtain for the Iranians. And even if Iran inevitably does gain weapons, is it not better for this gain to be monitored, instead of hidden? A strong deal is better than no deal.
If any foul play does ensue, the US and the Europeans can quickly throw out the agreement and enact sanctions once again. Instead of stump speaking against this deal, Tel-Aviv should acknowledge this and instead seek to constructively influence the nuclear talks. Indeed, a few days after the election, it has already begun to do so, by first having a chat with France, the negotiating nation taking the hardest line against Iran. This is smart, as Netanyahu needs to keep backroom diplomacy active and opt out of nonsense like alleged spying that only costs Israel friends in the West.
Finally, while gathering a cabinet, Netanyahu must carefully consider his choice for foreign minister, Israel’s first and foremost diplomat. Current foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman hails from a “right-winged, Israeli nationalist party,” and has in his tenure proposed nothing but controversy, from a plan to pay Arab-Israelis to leave Israel to beheading disloyal ones. As Haaretz, Israel’s oldest and one of its most influential newspapers, observes, Lieberman “has forgotten that he is a senior minister and not just a political huckster.” If Israel wants to be taken seriously in global affairs and have a seat at any negotiating table, Netanyahu must not once again pander to the Israeli right with such a selection.
Indeed, President Obama is specifically pressuring Netanyahu to avoid this in his cabinet formation. When asked if the US delegation to the United Nations would once again veto a resolution to begin the Palestinian statehood process, President Obama replied “we’re going to partly wait for an actual Israeli government to form.” This tepid response is a shift from the automatic American rejection of every UN Palestinian resolution in the past. Considering that the French just put forth such a proposal in the Security Council, and that Russia and China have historically supported Palestine, US approval would be devastating for Netanyahu’s career and foreign policy.
While a veto is most likely, Washington is clearly losing its patience for the Netanyahu administration’s derisive politics and rhetoric. It may finally see the upsides of an international imposition, rather than direct talks, after decades of diplomatic failure. Consequently, Netanyahu needs to deeply reassess his foreign policy from here on out.
Matt Lam is a freshman at Cornell University studying Economics in the College of Arts & Sciences. He is a Staff Writer for The Diplomacist.
Image Attribution: “Israel’s Economic and Political Outlook: Benjamin Netanyahu” by World Economic Forum, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0