Jerusalem — As Secretary of State John Kerry desperately tries to kick-start a renewal of negotiations for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, a newly crowned King of Likud is intent on sabotaging its realization.
Internal Likud elections held in late June underscored an emergent paradox: While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists that he is interested in pursuing a two-state solution that would create a Palestinian state, by some reports on as much as 90% of the West Bank, he’s being sidelined within his own party by a man who has left no doubt that his aim is to build the party as a barricade against a peace deal.
“The Likud party is still the party of the national camp of Israel, still the party that believes we have rights to the land in Judea and Samaria, and I think that the majority of the party still isn’t supporting the idea that there will be a Palestinian state in our backyard,” said Danny Danon, Israel’s outspoken deputy defense minister, who became chairman of Likud’s central committee after the June internal elections.
Danon, who replaced a Netanyahu ally, has embarrassed the prime minister repeatedly with comments that openly flout the government’s official line on peace negotiations. In an interview with the Forward, Danon’s first international media interview since assuming the party leadership role, Danon did not back away from his positions.
“I understand the importance of political power, so I will use my strength and influence to convince as many people as I can within the party and outside the party that a Palestinian state is bad news for Israel,” he told the Forward.
Danon is no outlier. In the recent Likud elections, all the major positions in the party infrastructure went to Likudniks significantly to Netanyahu’s right — some of whom propose the annexation of large parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. This political dissonance could, in the event of a peace process breakthrough, catapult internal Likud politics to international center stage from a domestic game of political inside baseball.
Danon himself is resolute that any peace proposal must go for a vote before the central committee — and he is “sure” that the party won’t accept any deal that matches the international community’s expectations for a two-state solution, namely one based broadly on 1967 borders and involving a division of Jerusalem.
During his interview, which took place July 2 in his Knesset office, Danon tried to maintain a restrained tone regarding his ideological foe Netanyahu, saying that they will cooperate for the good of the party. But with what seemed to be a pointedly chosen reminiscence, he explained his desire for “political power” — and implied that his eagerness to become a lawmaker in the first place stemmed from a need to stop Netanyahu from making concessions.