Why Netanyahu pulled out of Arab peace plan
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.