The Israeli Prime Minister presents himself to the Israeli public as a hardliner. Because it is also about his political survival.
“Israel could have turned the October 7 tragedy into an opportunity to finally seriously pursue a two-state solution,” a left-wing Israeli activist said at a Jerusalem restaurant on Thursday afternoon. “At other times it was possible. But not with Bibi. He will not be able to survive politically.”
A few hours later, Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu agreed with him. At a press conference in Tel Aviv that evening, he used a sharp tone. He added: “This conflict continues not because there is no Palestinian state, but because there is a Jewish state.” The Israeli Prime Minister concluded: “In the future, Israel must control the entire region from the river to the sea.” By this, Netanyahu means the entire territory of former Mandatory Palestine from the Jordanian border to the Mediterranean Sea, including the West Bank.
Netanyahu knows that he is ignoring the United States. The previous day, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for a vision of a Palestinian state at the World Economic Forum in Davos. This is the only way to achieve “real security” for Israel. However, Netanyahu remains tough on the issue. The 74-year-old, who lives in the United States, explained that as head of government, he “must be able to say 'no' when necessary, even to our best friends.”
But on Friday evening, “no” no longer seemed so clear. For the first time in 27 days, Netanyahu spoke by phone with US President Joe Biden. After the conversation, Biden told reporters that Netanyahu is not fundamentally opposed to the establishment of a Palestinian state. “There are a number of two-state solutions,” Biden said. According to American media, the president is confident that a Palestinian state without its own army can be approved in Israel. Biden told the reporters present that the two-state solution is also possible with Netanyahu in office.
The current government will lose power
It has long been known that Netanyahu rejects a Palestinian state. But the force with which Netanyahu publicly abuses Americans – who support his country with $3.8 billion in military aid annually – is surprising. Netanyahu presents himself in Israel as a hardliner because he is already looking forward to the next elections.
according to Poll from December 28 His Likud party will get just 16 seats in the Knesset, Israel's parliament. In the November 2022 elections, the party won twice the number of seats. The current government will lose power in the new elections – because many Likud voters, rightly, accuse Netanyahu of responsibility for the October 7 disaster. In order to keep his right-wing base, the Prime Minister presents himself as the only person who can stop their worst nightmares.
“Those who talk about the day after Netanyahu talk about establishing a Palestinian state led by the Palestinian Authority,” the prime minister said of himself in the third person to Israeli journalists in mid-December. He is the only one who has the political influence to withstand international pressure on the Palestinian issue, as Netanyahu promised his voters.
Israel against the rest of the world
With this position, Netanyahu became isolated internationally. The United States and Germany, Israel's two most important Western allies, are not the only ones who insist on a two-state solution. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said on Tuesday in Davos that his country could establish diplomatic relations with Israel. The necessary condition for achieving this is the existence of a realistic possibility of the establishment of a Palestinian state. This is also why the Israeli Prime Minister seemed more conciliatory in his conversation with Biden.
Normalizing relations between Israel and the powerful Gulf kingdom is the holy grail of Israeli foreign policy. This would be a major political victory for Netanyahu. But it is clear that he does not want to reach a compromise on the conflict with the Palestinians – at least not now.
The reason for this lies in internal politics. according to Israel Democracy Institute poll As of December 5, only 35% of Israeli Jews support a two-state solution — even if it is a condition for more American support. Approval is likely to be lower among Netanyahu voters. Jews make up about three-quarters of Israel's citizens.
Despite international pressure and the prospect of a long-term alliance with Saudi Arabia against arch-enemy Iran, the shock in Israel is too deep to make concessions to the Palestinians after the October 7 massacre. Centrist Israeli politicians realize this too.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog said on Thursday that there is no one in his right mind in Israel thinking about the peace process at this moment. Opposition leader Yair Lapid told Israeli television on Friday morning that the Palestinian Authority could assume part of civilian control in Gaza after the reform. But he added: “I don't think anyone believes that a Palestinian state will emerge in Gaza.” While the world agrees on the two-state solution, Israelis, with the exception of a few left-wing activists, oppose it.
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