Something important happened in Israel’s Knesset the other day. It was one of those incidents you might be tempted to ignore — just another spat over peace, Palestinians and territories.
On examination, though, what happened May 21 could tell you a lot about Israel’s complicated diplomatic position right now. It also helps explain some of the venom that’s infecting American Jewish public discourse on Israel.
What happened was a catfight among lawmakers over the Netanyahu government’s negotiating stance toward the Palestinians. What made it particularly interesting was that the fight was mostly between opposing factions within Prime Minister Netanyahu’s governing coalition. Opposition lawmakers mainly watched and kibitzed.
What made it particularly momentous was that it happened just two days before Secretary of State John Kerry was due in Jerusalem to resume his mediation effort. A substantial portion of the coalition, it turned out, wished he would stay home.
In effect, the Knesset was finally debating the question of whether to accept a Palestinian state alongside Israel, after decades of nibbling around the margins.
The occasion was an appearance by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni before the Knesset’s foreign affairs and defense committee to discuss the upcoming Kerry talks.
“My policy and that of the prime minister is that a solution of two states for two peoples must be achieved,” said Livni, a former foreign minister whose portfolio includes managing peace talks.
In reply, lawmaker Orit Strook of the Jewish Home party noted an awkward fact: “Two states for two peoples might be Netanyahu’s position, but it is not the official government position. It is not part of its basic guidelines.” A string of Jewish Home and Likud lawmakers seconded her.
Strook touched a raw nerve in Israeli diplomacy. Netanyahu has spent four years urging a two-state compromise. But he’s never sought or received formal government or Likud endorsement. His current coalition is deeply divided. Well over a third of his 68 lawmakers are opposed. Most of that group favors keeping all or most of the West Bank and quashing future Palestinian statehood.