Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 22 January 2019

Amid the Israeli chaos lies opportunity for change

The region is in a state of political turmoil, but self-interest could provide a resolution

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called an early election. Reuters 
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called an early election. Reuters 

On Monday, Benjamin Netanyahu’s precarious ruling coalition agreed to dissolve the Israeli parliament and announced an early election, to be held on April 9. Confirming long-circulating rumours, it was a turn of events that surprised no one. In a formal statement, the government cited reasons of “budgetary and national responsibility”, its opaque wording revealing as much as it concealed.

In recent months, the Israeli prime minister has been under increasing pressure from both fellow politicians and the law. Allegations of corruption swirl around Mr Netanyahu, and Israel’s attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, is currently reviewing police recommendations to indict him on three separate charges. Meanwhile, the rightward shift in Israeli politics, which Mr Netanyahu has done much to nurture now threatens him. In November, his government came close to collapse following the resignation of the then defence minister Avigdor Lieberman in protest over an Egyptian-mediated Gaza ceasefire that he viewed as a “capitulation to terror”. Mr Netanyahu emerged bloodied but not beaten and took over the defence portfolio himself, rather than hand it to education minister Naftali Bennett of the far-right Jewish Home party.

Calling the election is a canny move on Mr Netanyahu’s part. In addition to being popular with the Israeli voting public, he has a strong survival instinct and knows that a victory will provide a robust foundation from which to contest any charges that might be levelled against him – or for the whole idea to be dropped entirely. Such a result will also help to neutralise more extreme voices such as that of Mr Bennett.

At the same time, politics elsewhere is in an equally parlous state. On Sunday, President Mahmoud Abbas voiced his intention to dissolve the Palestinian parliament. The idea was roundly rejected by Hamas, which controls the largely defunct body, leaving the Palestinian people stranded, without effective leadership. It has never been more obvious that a credible voice has to emerge to defend their interests, and do so soon. Meanwhile, the merry-go-round of resignations and recriminations that has characterised the Trump administration is now spinning out of control. That the lives of so many depend on men such as Mr Netanyahu and Mr Trump is little short of terrifying

As counterintuitive as it may sound, however, some opportunity lies amid all this turmoil. With regards to the Palestinian cause, things simply cannot continue as they are – in the US, Israel or Palestine itself. It has long been clear that decisive action to create stability is desperately needed, but it now appears that personal ambition could actually be the key. Should the waters of Israeli politics calm, Palestine emerge with a clear sense of direction and the dysfunctional Trump administration finally begins to fulfil its promises, this will create genuine openings for dialogue and change. For all of the deeply compromised players in this ongoing drama, there could be no better vindication than making concrete steps towards the brokering of a workable peace.

Updated: December 25, 2018 08:11 PM