One big problem with democracy — in most of its forms — is that leaders can be tempted to put their own re-election above the state's civic and diplomatic interests. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s decision-making in recent days may be one of the finest examples of the phenomenon.
Every Israeli government for the past decade has deferred to international diplomatic pressure not to advance construction in the “E-1” zone outside Jerusalem. Every Israeli prime minister since Ariel Sharon knew that such a move would cause a diplomatic uproar, and for good reason.
One of the foundations of the Oslo Peace Process, the Clinton Parameters and the Road Map for Peace, all of which have long passed their expiry date, is that East Jerusalem will in some form or another become the capital of Palestine. But that becomes all-the-more impossible if Israel builds new settlements in E-1, further sealing Palestinian East Jerusalem and cutting it off from the rest of the West Bank. Construction in E-1 would make a contiguous Palestinian state appear even more of a pipedream than it already does today.
For that reason, the United States and other diplomatic heavyweights have long made it clear to Israel that building in E-1 is unacceptable.
But Netanyahu is in the middle of an election campaign and an ideological coup d'état took place in the Likud last month. The new face of the Likud is made up of ardent believers in the “land of Israel” stream of Zionism. Among them are a number of populist, uncompromising ideologues who have been responsible for a significant portion of the most controversial legislation tabled and diplomatic stances taken in the previous government. The results are the equivalent of a complete Tea Party takeover of the Republican Party.
The Likud also recently joined lists with the nationalist Israel Beytenu party, led by Avigdor Liberman, (probably) the only foreign minister in the world who lives outside the country he represents. Israel Beytenu too has always favored bold nationalist endeavors over strategic diplomacy with the West.
Netanyahu’s political family was demanding blood in response to the Palestinians’ upgrade to non-member observer status in the UN, forcing him to make a big gesture before the elections.
The prime minister knew that advancing construction in E-1 would put Israel in the middle of a diplomatic maelstrom. Furthermore, he knows that by advancing construction in E-1 he is driving yet another nail into the already closed coffin interring the two-state solution as it awaits burial.
But Netanyahu never intended to achieve a two-state solution, so that’s not an issue. And he’s already taken on the United States and survived politically.
So “what’s the big deal?”, Netanyahu asks. He may very well be pushing Israel further into international isolation, but hey, at least he’ll be around to deal with it.
As Winston Churchill once said, "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."
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