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Netanyahu's grip on the reins of government is loosening

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has had precious little to celebrate on the 100th day of his Likud-led coalition government. The occasion was marked this week with a vote for the leadership of the Likud Party. Mr Netanyahu lost to his deputy, Danny Danon, who won 85 per cent of the votes. Many observers note that Netanyahu's influence within his party is now at its lowest ebb. Some predict that it's only a matter of time before he is removed from office. While Palestinians, European and even American interlocutors would shed no tears over his departure, the sad reality is that his replacement would be even worse.

Throughout its first 100 days, Israel's incumbent administration has had three obsessions: passing discriminatory laws; acquiring more territory by force; and obstructing all efforts to restart negotiations with the Palestinians. These were not enough to appease Netanyahu's rivals within Likud or his coalition partners in Yisrael Beiteinu, Yesh Atid and the HaBayit HaYehudi parties. In a cryptic reproach of Netanyahu after this week's Likud vote, Danon complained that the party had been suffering from neglect in recent years. Similarly, party activists who rebelled and voted against Netanyahu claimed that he had lost his way and had killed the party.

In this setting of Byzantine-like in-fighting the prime minister has been forced to resort to deception; to conceal in public what he espouses in private. On the one hand he has to please his American allies by professing commitment to a two state solution, while on the other he has to speak the language of rejection in order to curb the growing influence of the settler movement within his government.

Since it is impossible to ride two horses at the same time he has lost the trust of friends and allies as well as credibility within his party.

After his poor showing in last January's general elections, Netanyahu was left politically exposed and vulnerable. With only 31 seats in the Knesset, he was unable to form a government of his choice. Thus he has had to follow the agenda of his coalition partners. The substance of this was highlighted in an editorial published by Haaretz newspaper on 30 May under the title, "Basic Law: Apartheid in Israel". It criticised a bill proposed by the Likud lawmaker, Yariv Levin, which "subjugates democracy to the state's Jewish identity".

"The proposal put forth by Coalition Chairman Yariv Levin," said Haaretz, "is nothing short of an apartheid law, aiming to provide a solid legal basis for the exclusion of Israel's Arab minority."

Among other things, the bill seeks to make mandatory the construction of Jewish communities; subject construction in Arab communities to stringent conditions for approval; and abolish Arabic as an official language of the state.

Levin, who incidentally was appointed by Netanyahu as chairman of the governing coalition, is not alone in this endeavour. Indeed, he is seen widely as competing with Ruth Calderon, a member of Yesh Atid, and Ayelet Shaked of the Habayit Hayehudi who wish to promote a variation of the same bill.

Reacting to the grotesque spectacle of Israeli lawmakers competing to enact discriminatory laws against the Palestinians, the human rights organisation Meezaan issued a statement from its headquarters in Nazareth on 26 June. It pointed out that these laws are nothing new, but have been sanctioned since the creation of Israel 65 years ago.

The arrogance with which the Netanyahu administration treats Palestinian citizens of Israel was replicated in its dealings with the Palestinian Authority over the past 100 days. The prime minister insists that there can be no peace unless the PLO/PA recognises Israel as a "Jewish state", with all its obvious connotations.

Netanyahu's insistence on this condition has rendered negotiations with the PLO/PA utterly devoid of meaning and substance. For one thing, it threatens the legal right of the refugees to return to their homes and, for another, it undermines the position of the 1.5 million Palestinians who make up one-fifth of the population in Israel.

All through its 100 days, the Netanyahu-led coalition has done everything possible to prevent negotiations from being able to go ahead, despite public calls for a return to the table. Defence minister Moshe Yaalon poured scorn on the Arab Peace Initiative while delivering a lecture in Washington earlier this month, describing it as 'a spin'.

Typically, Israel has used this stalemate of no war, but no peace either, to build thousands of new settlements and demolish hundreds of Palestinian homes in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem. So, no change there.

The completion of the first 100 days is always an important landmark for any administration. It gives leaders an opportunity to take stock, refocus efforts where they have been lacking or correct errors before they become entrenched. Sadly this has not been the case with Netanyahu and his coalition. Even if it is said that he has lost the capacity to lead, it is not because he does not subscribe to the reactionary views of his partners. It is simply because he is not committed enough to their brand of extremism. For this reason alone, whether he stays or goes – and his political future looks bleak – the future looks even bleaker for the Palestinians.

Commentary & AnalysisIsraelMiddle EastPalestine
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