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While Netanyahu is away, Israel simmers

October 01, 2013|By Batsheva Sobelman
  • Palestinians carry the body of Hiwashel Abu Hiwashel, 36, who was killed Monday by Israeli soldiers, during his funeral Tuesday in central Gaza Strip.
Palestinians carry the body of Hiwashel Abu Hiwashel, 36, who was killed… (Hatem Moussa / Associated…)

JERUSALEM — While Iran and Syria dominate the international agenda, another issue is percolating on the back burner: talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

When the United Nations General Assembly is over and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returns home, he could face intensifying pressure from hawks in his party and government who oppose Israeli concessions and a Palestinian state.

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have pledged to keep silent about the talks, so solid information has been scant despite occasional leaks, and the silence is making Israeli hard-liners nervous.

"It's a problem when we don't know what we're facing," Gershon Mesika, a leader of the Jewish settlement movement, said this week at a gathering of activists from Likud, Netanyahu's ruling party

Concerned that Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who heads the negotiating team, is brewing a deal entailing a massive withdrawal from the West Bank, he urged Likud officials to take a stand and clarify the party's position.

Likud has made no formal decision to break from years-long opposition to a Palestinian state and avoided updating its platform in the recent election campaign. Still, Netanyahu reaffirmed his commitment to the principles of his 2009 "Bar-Ilan speech," in which he first endorsed a Palestinian state under certain circumstances.

Next week, Netanyahu will speak at Bar-Ilan university again, raising speculation of another landmark policy speech.

Before the last elections, Netanyahu reportedly promised Likud ministers that Livni, who chairs the new Hatnuah party, wouldn't be allowed anywhere near negotiations with the Palestinians, but she was the first to join his government and was entrusted with negotiations.

 Now, Likud hard-liners trust neither her nor Netanyahu.

"We won't sit silently while Livni cooks an unacceptable deal," Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon was quoted as saying this week.

Meanwhile, conflict continues. Palestinians held a funeral in Gaza on Tuesday for a man killed the night before when Israeli soldiers opened fire on two men approaching the border fence.

And Israeli hard-liners have found much to irk them recently. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was introduced at the United Nations as the president of Palestine, U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry said the U.S. would step up its role in the negotiations, and Israeli and Palestinian negotiators gave a progress report to the Quartet — the Middle East mediation group consisting of the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia.

Also, President Barack Obama appeared to link negotiations with Iran with those between Israel and the Palestinians, irking some in Israel.

"Any linkage between the Palestinian issue and the Iranian issue should worry every Israeli citizen," lawmaker Reuven Rivlin told Israel Radio on Tuesday. While negotiations are a vital Israeli interest, linking them to Iran is "neither moral nor beneficial," he said.

Livni saw a positive side. Posting on Facebook after returning from the U.S., she said renewed peace negotiations have created "a more comfortable international environment" for Israel, allowing it to explore an axis with "others in the Middle East that are threatened by Iran" — a possibility precluded by the previous diplomatic stalemate.

Netanyahu will soon be returning to these same political issues that are marked by wide and improbable gaps between apparent centrists and hawks.

After two Israeli soldiers were killed in the West Bank recently, seven of Netanyahu's Cabinet members sent him a letter demanding reconsideration of Israel's agreement to release Palestinian prisoners during the negotiations. Among them was Naftali Bennet, a senior political partner and fierce critic of the two-state solution, which he recently declared a "dead end."

Soon, says left-wing lawmaker Zehava Galon, Netanyahu will have to decide "if he's Dr. Livni or Mr. Bennet ... and if he intends to cross the Rubicon."


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