By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that there’re signs, albeit faint, that the in-your-face bravado announcements about settlement expansion by the Likud Beiteinu Party Leader Binyamin Netanyahu before the elections last month were different from what we seem to hear from the office of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu after the elections.
Party Leader Netanyahu no doubt wanted settlers and their supporters to vote for his party and not for settler champion Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi. Now when the elections are over – and many still voted for Bennett – Netanyahu may have come to realize that he now has to face the world where his government’s notorious settlement policy is anathema abroad to all but Jewish sycophants and Christian evangelicals.
That’s probably behind the seemingly deliberate leak in today’s Ha’aretz that the Prime Minister’s National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror had told “closed doors” meetings that the settlements are an embarrassment to the State of Israel and that’s impossible to explain them anywhere in the world “even to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.” Of course, the denial by the Prime Minister’s office doesn’t mean that Amidror didn’t say it; it may be no more than tactics to placate hardliners.
Amidror is about to leave for Washington on behalf of the Prime Minister to prepare President Obama’s much anticipated Israel visit. I find it difficult to believe that if Netanyahu didn’t want us to know what was said behind those “closed doors,” the newspaper wouldn’t know about it either. Rather, it may be an attempt to soften up the Israeli public to what’s to come. As it would look bad for Netanyahu himself to renege on his pre-election statements, he may be using a stooge to do it for him.
Amidror is said to be anything but a liberal. The fact that he has become the mouthpiece for the “leak” is perhaps a message to the right-wing. Avigdor Lieberman, Netanyahu’s election partner and a resident in a settlement – not known for sophisticated diplomacy or soft talk to international critics – is in limbo awaiting a law suit. Thus the risk of a rebellion from within isn’t as grave as might have been otherwise.
Even though this kind of “leak” is a less than an honorable way of doing things, in this case it’s still good news: it points to a “confidence building measure” in anticipation of Obama’s visit. Despite official denials, we may still hope for some tangible results.
In a similar vein, the leaks and informed “speculations” from the coalition negotiations are paying undue attention to Tsipi Livni, even though she doesn’t have that many Knesset seats to bring to the table and despite the old tensions between her and Netanyahu when she had more seats than he yet blew it. She may now be included in the government. The peace negotiations may be “outsourced” to her. Whether there’s truth in this rumor and whether she’ll lend her name to it remains to be seen.
Nothing of the above should be read as a breakthrough. However, it may be legitimate to hope that under international pressure intensified by Obama’s visit the current untenable position of the Government of Israel in relation to settlement expansion will be reconsidered. It’s about time!
The alternative is too grim to contemplate. The thought of unchecked settlement building is seen by some as a road to Israeli self-destruction. Perhaps we need to be close to despair before we can begin to hope. This cannot be only wishful thinking!