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Livni is being used to polish Netanyahu's image

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was keen to draw attention to his success in incorporating the Movement Party, led by former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, in his latest coalition government. This keenness is not aimed at putting pressure on the other parties trying to impose further conditions on him in order to join his government, but because Netanyahu wants to send a message to the world that he is serious about the negotiations portfolio, which Livni will manage. This development reflects Netanyahu's realisation that Israel needs to take practical measures in order to prevent the deterioration of its international status and growing need of international support, particularly from the US and Europe.


However, Netanyahu, along with Livni, will be faced with a difficult test over the freezing of settlement construction in the occupied West Bank. Such a freeze is supported internationally, especially after Israel's decision to build in area "E1" around Jerusalem, which was greeted by unprecedented criticism.

America and Europe are aware that the changes in the Arab world require the West to look as if it is not covering up Israeli actions which undermine a political solution for the Palestine-Israel conflict. At the same time, strategists in Israel are warning Netanyahu that the status quo cannot continue and the country needs to change its policies. They note that the old order in the Middle East which guaranteed Israel relative stability has fallen.

Such changes, say the strategists, push Israel to use military power once in a while in order to preserve its deterrence, thus providing a margin of flexibility over when it can use its strength. Israel must also receive confirmation of international legitimacy but that is lessened the longer it continues to build illegal settlements and enforces Judaisation policies in the occupied Palestinian territories. As such, it is suggested that the Israeli government should freeze building outside the large settlement blocs if it wants to defend itself in every way.

Moreover, even in Israel there are those who believe that continued settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank will make it impossible to agree on any political resolution to the conflict. Complicating this further is the fact that the Europeans and Americans agree that the Palestinian Authority stuck to its commitments dictated by the "road map", as it succeeded in putting an end to resistance operations in the West Bank and has demonstrated the credibility of its security cooperation with Israel.

There have been growing calls within Israel for the decision-makers in Tel Aviv to use President Obama's visit to the region as a boost for the Israeli government to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians at minimal cost. For example, Professor Yehezkel Dror, who is described as "the father of Israel's strategic thinking", hasn't missed a chance recently to advise Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take advantage of Obama's visit and use it to improve the strategic environment in the country. Moreover, Dror has expressed his concern over government officials' lack of interest in doing everything possible to improve relations with the US administration. He has also made it clear that Obama's visit is important and extremely sensitive, especially following the rise to power of Islamic parties in the region which are, he believes, "likely to play a larger role on a global level".

Furthermore, Dror warns that the Arab revolutions have had a major impact on America's geo-strategic position, "reducing its ability to intervene in regional affairs at a time that the power of Israel's enemies has intensified". He warns that the worst-case scenario is for developments to occur which push the international community to impose a political solution which is not in Israel's interests and does not serve its strategic goals.

Thus, urges Prof. Dror, the Israeli government must use the visit of the US president to gain the maximum advantage from any future agreement to solve the conflict with the Palestinians. He also notes that anyone who believes that Jordan is an "alternative homeland" for the Palestinians, or in a one-state-for-all solution, is deluding themselves.

However, despite all of the above, the chances of Netanyahu taking the initiative and creating an environment that allows for negotiations to achieve real results are nil, due to internal pressure from his own Likud Party. In short, Netanyahu cannot agree on any freeze of settlement construction, within or beyond the major settlement blocs. Nor, it must be said, can the new party Yesh Atid, which did so well at the polls recently and believes that settlements must be allowed to have "natural" growth to cope with a growing population.

So, what Netanyahu will try to do is focus on solution-finding as a process, without any expectation of results. In the meantime, he has Livni in place to give his "peace building" image a shiny new look.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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