Why Ne­tanyahu pulled out of Arab peace plan

The Jewish Chronicle - - WORLD NEWS - BY ANSHEL PEFFFER

BEN­JAMIN NE­TANYAHU spent a siz­able chunk of the past eight years ma­noeu­vring be­tween a sus­pi­cious Amer­i­can ad­min­is­tra­tion and his hard­line coali­tion part­ners.

It was an in­tense bal­anc­ing act in which he tried to con­vince Pres­i­dent Barack Obama that he was pre­pared to ad­vance the diplo­matic process with the Pales­tini­ans while as­sur­ing rightwing min­is­ters that he would not be mak­ing any con­ces­sions.

The se­cret sum­mit that took place a year ago in Aqaba, at­tended by for­mer US State Sec­re­tary John Kerry as well as the lead­ers of Egypt and Jor­dan, re­vealed this week in Haaretz, was the last stop on his fraught jour­ney through the Obama era.

The rev­e­la­tion of the Fe­bru­ary 21 sum­mit filled in the blanks around a flurry of po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­ity last year in Is­rael.

Seek­ing to broaden his tiny coali­tion, which has re­lied on a wafer-thin ma­jor­ity, Mr Ne­tanyahu en­gaged in a se­ries of meet­ings with Labour leader Isaac Her­zog.

Then, all of a sud­den, with the two par­ties on the verge of sign­ing a coali­tion agree­ment, Mr Ne­tanyahu made a swift re­treat and signed a deal with Avig­dor Lieber­man’s Yis­rael Beit­einu.

Now it has emerged that Mr Her­zog agreed to en­ter ne­go­ti­a­tions with the prime min­is­ter af­ter be­ing ap­praised of the Aqaba sum­mit, at which the par­tic­i­pants had dis­cussed re­new­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween Is­rael and the PA, frozen since early 2014, un­der the aus­pices of Egypt, Jor­dan and pos­si­bly the Saudis. Over the phone, Mr Kerry, King Ab­dul­lah and Pres­i­dent Ab­del Fat­tah el-Sisi all con­vinced Mr Her­zog of the se­ri­ous­ness of the talks.

The deal with Mr Ne­tanyahu would have seen Mr Her­zog be­come Is­rael’s for­eign min­is­ter and lead the ne­go­ti­a­tions, which were to be launched at a re­gional con­fer­ence.

But be­fore fi­nal­is­ing the deal, Mr Ne­tanyahu in­volved some of his Likud min­is­ters, who con­vinced him that the ma­jor­ity of the party would be op­posed to such a deal and that he risked los­ing right-wing vot­ers in the next elec­tion.

Why did the at­tempt to re­launch the diplo­matic process and form a more cen­trist coali­tion re­ally fail? There is no clear an­swer. Mr Ne­tanyahu’s vul­ner­a­bil­ity to his right-wingers could be one ex­pla­na­tion. An­other is that he was never se­ri­ous to be­gin with.

In the sec­ond edi­tion of his book,

A Place Among the Na­tions, pub­lished in 2001, Mr Ne­tanyahu wrote that con­trary to the re­ceived view, “time is work­ing to our ben­e­fit. Ul­ti­mately, and prob­a­bly in our life­times, the Mid­dle East will join the global process of democrati­sa­tion.” But un­til it hap­pens, he wrote, Is­rael has to per­se­vere and not grant any ter­ri­to­rial con­ces­sions to the Pales­tini­ans who refuse to recog­nise Is­rael as a Jewish state.

Six­teen years and one Arab Spring later, the Mid­dle East still awaits democ­racy and Mr Ne­tanyahu still be­lieves time is work­ing in his favour.

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