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How Far Can Netanyahu Go To Make Obama Happy?

According to these reports, the President and his staff are well aware of the political constrains limiting Bibi’s ability to “freeze” settlements and evacuate outposts in the West Bank:

Many people in Washington seemed to be more interested in the life expectancy of the current Israeli government than in Netanyahu’s positions. To a large extent, the answer to that will be dependent on Obama: The more he pressures Netanyahu to “stop the settlements,” the greater the prime minister’s coalition problems. Netanyahu is in a trap: The more he tries to persuade Obama he can provide the diplomatic goods, the quicker his coalition will expire.

After the Bibi-Obama meeting, Defense Minister Ehud Barak seemed to seize the initiative, promising evacuations (this serves Barak well, politically speaking, as it helps him explain to the center-left why joining Netanyahu’s government was the right thing to do).

But yesterday, Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Yaalon clarified that “settlement construction will not be halted,” drawing a fine line between “illegal” outposts that “the government will not permit” and “the construction in the settlements within the framework of natural growth” that the government will not halt, not even under pressure. As I explained here last week, the discussion of the settlement issue is often erroneously framed in black (freeze nothing) and white (freeze all) – while in fact things are much more nuanced and complicated.

But while Yaalon (of the Likud Party) is willing to play along and settle for outpost evacuation – a position Netanyahu himself seems able to live with – some members of the Netanyahu government draw the line further away from the American position:

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman emphasized his opposition on Sunday to unilaterally dismantling illegal outposts in the West Bank, and said that such a move should be part of the greater peace process which inevitably would require equivalent action from the Palestinians. 

With Lieberman taking this position, the other right-of-center parties will not be able to lag far behind. The religious Shas and the Jewish House will have to resist any evacuation, giving Bibi the headache of possible confrontation with the Americans, but also the benefit of showing Obama and Hillary Clinton that his ability to give them what they want is limited. He can only hope that these two very shrewd politicians do understand that a demand for political suicide is not a realistic one.



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