The Israeli-Palestinian peace process is dead if Binyamin Netanyahu wins next week’s Israeli election, leading academics have warned – even if he forms a government with centrists rather than the ultra-nationalist party Jewish Home.The polls show Netanyahu on course to remain prime minister after the 22 January polls, with labour the second-largest party and Naftali Bennett’s relatively new Jewish Home coming a close third.
Bennett has said the conflict with the Palestinians is “insoluble” and a Palestinian state is not going to be established, and he has called for Israel to annex the 60% of the West Bank that is under Israeli military control – the so-called Area C.
But Dr Amnon Aran, senior lecturer in international politics at City University, London, told the Guardian that even if Netanyahu spurned Jewish Home and formed a government with centrist parties such as Tzipi Livni’s Hatenhuah or Yair Lapid’s There is a Future, there were a number of important factors working against peace.
“One thing is the Arab uprisings,” Aran said. “Netanyahu has stated very clearly that he is adopting a wait-and-see policy, that this is not the time to make any concessions, when the region is in flux, and of course the Arab uprising might last quite a while.”
He added: “Another one of course is the question of what will happen with Iran, and again Netanyahu has indicated on several fronts that the first priority is Iran not the Palestinians … And it is indicative that, with the exception of Livni, in a sort of pretty minor way, no significant party has raised the banner of the peace process … In terms of the Israeli domestic scene there isn’t a big impetus like there was 15-20 year ago.”
He concluded: “By and large for these reasons there isn’t much hope.”
If Netanyahu’s Likud-Beiteinu coalition were to team up with Jewish Home the outlook was even bleaker. Dr Eugene Rogan, lecturer in the modern history of the Middle East at St Anthony’s College, Oxford, said of Bennett’s calls to annex Area C: “What we are getting now from the Jewish Home party is recognition that what they really want is they want the land [in the West Bank] even if it means accepting the people in it, and that the people on the land would then be Israeli citizens, but what they don’t say is obviously second-class Israeli citizens.”
Asked how far Netanyahu would go towards this position if he allowed Jewish Home into government, Rogan said: “He doesn’t state it as such because it’s not a popular thing to say. Abroad it’s unpopular because the international community recognises a two-state solution is the only resolution of differences between Palestinians and Israelis. At home because the Israelis are scared of the demographic bomb and the idea of retaining a large and growing Arab population within Israel for many represents the end of the Jewish state.
“So Netanyahu won’t want to put as boldly as Naftali Bennett … but that’s where he’s headed.”
Professor Clive Jones, chair of Middle East studies and international politics at the University of Leeds, told the Guardian he was “not at all hopeful” for the peace process if Likud and Jewish Home teamed up – something he thought “extremely likely”.
“If [Jewish Home] win anything I think over 10-12 seats I would think it’s very, very difficult not to see Likud-Beiteinu bringing them into the coalition government,” Jones said. “I think they would actually have to.”
In response to the Palestinians’ successful push for the UN to recognise Palestine as a non-member state last November, Netanyahu pledged to unfreeze building in the E1 area north-west of Jerusalem in the West Bank.
These plans seem to now be on hold. But Jones suggested that could change if Jewish Home joins the government: “The interesting thing will be – and I think that Netanyahu’s probably almost become a prisoner of his own rhetoric – the issue over whether Netanyahu will then carry through with his stated aim of building on the E1 settlement block, and I think he would kind of be held … to account by HaBayit HaYehudi [Jewish Home] and Bennett on going through with that, because the interesting thing at the moment is that despite what he [Netanyahu]’s said there has been no move towards bringing in the bulldozers etc etc.
“And many people on the right in Israel are beginning to make sounds about this, saying that Netanyahu talks a good talk but he doesn’t walk the walk.”
He added that this pressure would come from rightwingers such as Moshe Feiglin in Netanyahu’s own party too. “Remember the kind of more moderates … within the Likud have not made it on to the party list – people like Dan Meridor in particular.”
As for Bennett’s plan to annex Area C, Jones said: “I think what you will see – and again this is purely my opinion – is an increasing use of the security fence to de facto become the eastern border of the state. And that fence itself will incorporate the main settlement blocs, and that de facto does not in its entirety incorporate all of Area C but a large portion of it, and I think that’s what’s going to happen, and I think it’s happening anyway now de facto.”
It would be very difficult for the Israeli opposition to moderate any of this, Jones said. “I think that the way that Israeli politics is construed it makes it very difficult for parties in opposition to have any real effect anyway. And as much as you may see some coalescing around what they’re calling the centre-left bloc … I think it’s going to be extremely difficult for them to put forward any kind of meaningful opposition.”
Jones said that in the debates that raged over a pre-emptive strike on Iran the effective opposition was “the old established security networks: former generals, former heads of intelligence” who appealed over the heads of Israeli political leaders to politicians in the US. “I think that to a certain extent shows you how moribund much of the political process in Israel is.”
Jordan’s king warned on Monday that the failure to revive the peace process was adding to regional tensions.
King Abdullah II told a delegation from the Washington-based lobby group the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that regional changes tied to the Arab Spring should “drive” the Israeli government to “embrace peace”. In talks with AIPAC, the king also called on Israel to stop measures that hindered peace efforts, including West Bank settlement construction, and urged Israel, the Palestinians and the US to resume direct talks based on a two-state solution, which he called the “only formula” to end the conflict.
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