Friday, September 24, 2010

This Just In: Israeli-Palestinian Politics Unstable

Anyone who is familiar with Israeli politics knows that theirs is a playing field of constantly-shifting tectonics.  With no single party big enough to rule outright, fragile, multi-factioned coalitions are required to govern.  Offend one of your coalition partners and you risk bringing down your government.  It doesn't take much; take a look at the list of current and past parties in Israel here.

So, when people argue that current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu risks the destruction of his coalition by extending the moratorium on building settlements in the West Bank -- set to expire this Sunday -- while just having started the latest round of talks with the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, they are stating something beyond obvious.  A "Sword of Damocles" hangs over every Israeli government every day of the week.

For his part, Abbas doesn't have it much better, considering a sizable chunk of his territory -- incidentally, the one place Israel has actually left, the Gaza Strip -- is controlled by his political enemy, Hamas.

In short, neither leader can negotiate from a particular position of strength, politically anyway.  What they can do, however, is try to extent the status quo -- the about-to-end moratorium.  Netanyahu doesn't have to commit to a permanent cession, and Abbas doesn't have to demand it.  It creates some "breathing space" -- as today's NYT editorial calls it -- perhaps just enough for the fledgling talks to get some traction.

Some will squawk.  So what else is new?  Peace talks are bigger and infinitely more important than an individual politician or government.  Leaders lead.  It's what they (are supposed to) do.  They also have to put up or shut up.  If these two men are serious about negotiating, they must sustain a climate that allows for it.

Then, once the building issue is held in stasis, they can address some of the potentially game-changing issues former Prime Minister and Mayor of Jerusalem Ehud Olmert raises in today's Jerusalem Post.

[Original image source unknown; reused from Mail Online.]