<a href="http://www.mepc.org/articles-commentary/middle-east-focus">Middle East In Focus</a>
In the wake of Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s surprise announcement of early parliamentary elections, the main political parties in Israel have increased their efforts to consolidate alliances with other factions. Netanyahu, of center-right Likud, has now moved toward a merger with Avigdor Lieberman’s far-right Yisrael Beytenu, countering a centrist bloc formed by Labor and Kadima. Meanwhile, PA’s Mahmoud Abbas has decided to move forward at the United Nations, demanding an upgrade in the PA’s status. What all of this means for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is anyone’s guess, however few doubt that such maneuverings will make any prospects for a deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority on a number of far reaching issues very difficult, if not impossible.
According to a report by Arutz Sheva’s David Lev & Yoni Kempinski, after seeing Labor and members of Kadima come together in an effort to create a common electoral strategy, Likud’s leader PM Netanyahu has approached his current Foreign Minister and leader of Yisrael Beytenu, Avigdor Lieberman: “The Likud’s Central Committee voted to approve the party’s joint election list with Yisrael Beytenu by an overwhelming majority at a meeting Monday night. According to the agreement, details of which were revealed at the meeting, the heads of the list — Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, chairmen of the Likud and Yisrael Beytenu respectively — will work together to build a list which will include all current MKs in both parties. The order of the Likud members of the list will be based on the amount of votes they receive in the upcoming party primaries.”
The rationale for the deal received a boost after new polls showed the possible Likud Beytenu coalition in lead three months before voting takes place. Reporting on polling data days before Likud’s Central Committee was due to vote on the joint election list proposal, Gil Ronen noted: “Two out of the three latest polls published in Israel provide encouraging predictions for Binyamin Netanyahu and make it more likely that his party will ratify the merger with Yisrael Beytenu later on Monday....Were elections held today, Netanyahu would have an easy time forming the next government, Maariv wrote.”
Should the polls turn out to be accurate and the Likud Beytenu coalition cruises to victory, there is no doubt the prospects of a comprehensive and acceptable deal between Israel and Palestine will be greatly diminished. Meanwhile, PA President Mahmoud Abbas has decided to press forward with a Palestinian bid for upgraded status within the United Nations: “President Abbas will pursue a bid to upgrade Palestine's status at the United Nations in November...Abbas is expected to put his request for non-member status to the United Nations General Assembly on Nov. 15 or Nov. 29....Ma'an reported on Wednesday that the PLO began distributing a position paper to European governments detailing the plans to seek an upgrade of Palestine's status at the UN. The document underscores concerns about how the United States and Israel will respond if the UN bid succeeds, and it asks European countries not to go along with possible sanctions against the Palestinian Authority.”
News of a renewed bid by the Palestinians for greater recognition has been received with anger and threats that, according to Israel’s own diplomats, “Israel may ‘go crazy’…. Israel's diplomats are warning that President Mahmoud Abbas’ bid to upgrade Palestine’s status at the United Nations could lead to unrest....diplomats are warning countries worldwide and particularly Europe as part of an intensive diplomatic campaign against the move, which comes months amid Israeli elections....In a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama last week, Abbas said the Palestinian move at the UN was aimed at securing ‘international recognition that would facilitate negotiations.’ The Palestinians need a simple majority for the upgrade, but predict that between 150 and 170 nations will vote in favor.”
As a result of the current developments, there is generally little optimism that a two-state solution is anywhere on the horizon, or that the Oslo process will survive the next round of negotiations. For some observers that might not be such a bad thing anyway. For example, Yedioth Ahronoth’s Dan Calic sees Arafat’s refusal to accept the 2000 Camp David II deal as a turning point since: “For years the general thinking was the Arabs favored the two-state solution, while Israel was against it. However in the 2000 Camp David II negotiations there was a shift of significant proportions.... With the two-state solution clearly dead, I unapologetically invite those who continue to pursue it to its long overdue funeral. It should be presided over by Mahmoud Abbas, along with representatives from Hamas, Hezbollah, the PLO and the rest of the Arab world, since they, not Israel, are responsible for its death. All pragmatists are invited.”
Those sentiments are also echoed by the Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin whose “statements during plenum session dedicated to former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin sparked outrage among Labor, Meretz MKs…. [The] special Knesset session … became a scene of political wrangling. Various speakers used the event to lay out their political agendas and butted heads over controversial statements made by Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin. Rivlin, who opened the session, chose to outline his ideological differences with Rabin.”
On the Palestinian side, Amin’s Daoud Kuttab also suggests that doing away with the Oslo process might be desirable, since “the goals laid out in the Oslo Accords remain unfulfilled. In fact, the agreement is unlikely to survive 89-year-old Peres and 77-year-old Abbas, who are now presidents of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, respectively. Several factors contributed to the deterioration of prospects for lasting peace....Perhaps the most important factor has been the continuation — and, at times, acceleration — of Israeli settlement activities in occupied Palestinian territories.... With the Oslo Process now clearly dead, two options remain: chaos, extremism, and violence, or a new peace process — ideally one that can end the occupation and allow for Palestinian independence and freedom alongside a safe and secure Israel.”
It is clear to many observers that the future of the two-state solution lies no less on what happens in Gaza, especially in the context of the ongoing turmoil in the region following the Arab Spring. It is hardly surprising then that, as Tariq Alhomayed writes in an op-ed for Asharq Alawat, the recent visit of the Emir of Qatar in the Gaza strip has raised more questions than answers: “The visit of Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the Emir of Qatar, to the Gaza Strip has raised some criticism, specifically from the Palestinian Authority. However this visit also raises a lot of questions, most importantly: Does the visit of Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa mean that Gaza is now under Qatari guardianship, after it was previously under the guardianship of Iran and Bashar al-Assad?...Placing Gaza under Qatari guardianship means that Doha is now a party in the inter-Palestinian conflict, which poses a genuine danger to Palestinian reconciliation, the state and the peace process. Is Qatar able to pay this high political price?”
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