The inclination by those in the peace camp, both in Israel and the United States, to react cynically to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s surprise announcement of a coalition agreement with Kadima party chairman Shaul Mofaz was not that shocking. But it is sorely misguided. Worse, it could be detrimental to Israel’s interests.
Discounting the formation of the unity government as having no real policy implications may seem reasonable from past experience, but is also simplistic. Instead, Israel’s supporters in America — particularly those who advocate for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — should examine this development with an open mind and and encourage the potential for positive movement.
Granted, while encouraging the coalition’s moderation, we must not be blind to the harsh realities of Israeli politics, which have dashed the hopes and possibilities of this type of moment in the past. These include the possibility that the new coalition could collapse over domestic issues. Until that collapse takes place, and with real leadership, the current makeup of this government offers the best chance for progress.
In late June, in Washington, Mofaz, the new deputy prime minister, declared: “We cannot continue to rule another nation,” adding that “the solution is to make compromises.” He told The Washington Post before his visit to the United States, “Time is not in favor” of Israel, because the Palestinian dispute could lead to the end of the Jewish state should Arabs outnumber Jews.
That both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton chose to meet with Mofaz is significant. The president’s half-hour conversation was not scheduled. He walked in on Mofaz’s meeting with National Security adviser Tom Donilon and took over. It’s likely that Mofaz’s stance on Israeli-Palestinian talks prompted the president’s move.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s remarks at the end of May backing an interim agreement to help smooth the way to a two-state solution also illustrate how this new coalition could produce positive policy achievements. His comments resemble Mofaz’s plan for a Palestinian state within interim borders as a first step toward final-status negotiations.
These examples tell us we should welcome the new coalition as a step toward centrism and pragmatism. What’s more, if Israel is to successfully address the serious challenges it faces, it needs a strong and broad governing coalition. We must support this one and encourage its continuation.
The alternative — the reflexive distrust that greets actions taken by the Israeli government in recent years — diminishes Jerusalem’s and Washington’s capacity to deal with the issues that both face in the region. It also ignores the new political reality in Israel. With the centrist Kadima party entering the coalition, the government now consists of 94 to 120 seats in Israel’s Knesset.
This cynicism also discounts the very real impact the new government’s moderate voices could have. As Kadima Deputy Chairman Yohanan Plesner noted during a conference call organized by the Israel Policy Forum the day after the new government was announced. The coalition enables a “moderate alliance” to be developed. American Jewish supporters of Israel, the Obama administration and Congress should appreciate this critically important fact.