J.J. Goldberg

Bibi's Peace Dilemma: Defying His Own Party

By J.J. Goldberg

  • Print
  • Share Share
Getty Images
Bibi Netanyahu and his dad

With the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations operating under a tightly sealed cone of silence imposed by Secretary of State John Kerry, Middle East policy junkies have developed an elaborate guessing game that takes the form of a will-he-or-won’t-he dissection of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s intentions.

The idea is to examine what’s known about Netanyahu’s past, his psychological makeup, his current actions and his relationship with the rest of his Likud party, and then to guess whether he’s likely to embrace a two-state peace agreement that’s broad enough for the Palestinian side to buy into—assuming that they’re serious about making a deal as well. For aficionados of the game, the end point is to decide whether Bibi Is Ready to Cross the Rubicon.

The Rubicon was all the rage in the hallways of the Washington Convention Center during the J Street conference this week. Given that it’s J Street, one might have supposed going in that the popular answer would be No, that Bibi isn’t ready to cross. But that wasn’t the case. Talking to Knesset members, Israeli and American policy wonks and journalists, the betting was more or less even. And if you listened closely, what it really came down to was a sort of Israeli version of the Hastert Rule.

I refer, of course, to the rule imposed on the Republican majority in the House of Representatives by former House speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois, under which a bill normally didn’t come to the floor unless it was backed by a majority of the majority. That is, a bill had to have the backing of a majority of the Republican caucus. Only in extraordinary circumstances would the speaker let a bill come be passed by a minority of the Republicans joined by a large number of Democrats. The Israeli equivalent is the rule that the prime minister doesn’t bring a bill to the Knesset unless it’s first approved by a majority of his Cabinet and of his own party.

It’s the Hastert Rule that’s crippling congressional budget discussions right now. It’s widely believed that the House would easily pass a continuing resolution to keep the federal government open, vote to raise the debt ceiling and perhaps even adopt an actual budget—without grandstanding over ObamaCare—if Democrats and reasonable Republicans were allowed to join forces. But House Speaker John Boehner has resisted letting the legislation come to the floor for a vote without a majority of his majority Republicans. As a result, we’re hostages to the Tea Party and its allies. That’s the Hastert Rule.

The Israeli version of the Hastert Rule is based on the fact that there’s a solid majority in the Knesset for a two-state peace agreement— even for a deal that includes borders based on the 1967 lines (with land swaps) and a shared capital in Jerusalem, or so I was told by party leader Zahava Gal-On of the left-wing opposition Meretz party — but most of Netanyahu’s own Likud party seems to be firmly against it. He would have to defy most of his party and perhaps a majority of his Cabinet and governing coalition to bring such a deal to the floor for a vote.

Three of the keynote speakers at plenum sessions of the J Street conference were heads of Israeli parties—all of them women, interestingly: Tzipi Livni of Hatnuah, Netanyahu’s justice minister and chief peace negotiator; Shelli Yachimovich of the center-left opposition Labor Party and Gal-On of Meretz. Both Yachimovich and Gal-On stated clearly that if Netanyahu were to bring a peace deal to the Knesset floor their parties would support him. The same message came, less expectedly, from another Knesset member who addressed J Street, Yitzhak Vaknin of the ultra-Orthodox opposition Shas party. In effect, they were asking him to violate the Hastert Rule, go around the majority in his own ruling party and rely on the opposition to pass the measure.

For Netanyahu to do that, though, he would probably have to break up the Likud and abandon its hardline wing the way that Ariel Sharon did in 2005 when he decided to withdraw from Gaza. This is where the psychology comes in: Unlike Sharon, whose family was rooted in the labor movement, Bibi was born and raised in a family and a social milieu of intense party loyalists. His late father, historian Benzion Netanyahu, was a close aide to Vladimir Jabotinsky, founder of the Zionist Revisionist movement that eventually became the Likud.

Will Bibi move forward toward a peace agreement that will sever his ties to his past and his family heritage? Or won’t he?


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Zionist Revisionism, Zahava Gal-On, Vladimir Jabotinsky, Washington Convention Center, Yitzhak Vaknin, Tzipi Livni, Shelli Yachimovich, Shas, Meretz, Likud, J Street, Israel Labor Party, Hatnuah, Hastert Rule, Dennis Hastert, Bibi Netanyahu, Benzion Netanyahu, Benjamin Netanyahu

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • “I don’t want to say, ‘Oh oh, I’m not Jewish,’ because when you say that, you sound like someone trying to get into a 1950s country club, “and I love the idea of being Jewish." Are you a fan of Seth Meyers?
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.