Imagine this scenario: President Obama delivers an address to the nation, in which he says he would use force if Syria doesn’t strip itself from its chemical arsenal. Later, on the same day, National Security Advisor Susan Rice appears in a public event and dismisses the president’s words, quoting an anti-war statement he delivered as a freshman senator 11 years ago. Ms. Rice’s message, in this hypothetical scenario, would be: Don’t take the president seriously. The real Barack Obama would never use force.
Unimaginable, you say. If that ever happened, Rice would be booted out of her job immediately.
Yet this is exactly what happened recently in Israel. Secretary of State John Kerry came to Jerusalem to reiterate the American resolve to push forward the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Standing next to him at the press conference, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assured his guest that “we’ve embarked on this effort with you in order to succeed, to bring about a historic reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians that ends the conflict once and for all.”
Netanyahu had already committed himself to a two-state solution in his 2009 Bar Ilan speech, but just in case anyone had doubts, Kerry, in his remarks, was pretty blunt: “I am talking to both leaders directly. And everybody, I think, understands the goal that we are working for. It is two states living side by side in peace and in security.”
A few hours later, however, Zeev Elkin, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, had totally different things to say. Speaking to a crowd of Likud party members in a toast for Rosh Hashana, he reminded his listeners of a debate in the Likud 11 years ago about the issue of a Palestinian state, where none other than Netanyahu himself voiced the fiercest opposition to the idea. “Yes to a Palestinian state is No to the Jewish state,” Elkin quoted Netanyahu’s words from 2002, “and No to the Palestinian state is a Yes to a Jewish state.”
In other words, Elkin — who, in case you forgot, is the deputy foreign minister — is saying to the public: Don’t listen to the prime minister. He only talks like that to please the eager Americans. The true Netanyahu will never agree to a two-state solution.
Now, did Elkin get a message on his cell phone even before he got back to his office, telling him he was fired? Not exactly. Netanyahu, a master of political survival, can try and dismiss this as yet another price one has to pay for leading a coalition government.
If Elkin, a member of Yisrael Beiteinu party (now a faction in the Likud), were a single dissenting voice in Netanyahu’s choir, then the prime minister could have brushed him off easily. But at his government table also sits Naftali Bennett, minister of economy and leader of the Habayit Hayehudi party, a senior member of the government coalition, who said in June that “the idea that a Palestinian state will be formed in the land of Israel has come to a dead end.”
If this is not enough, then just hours before the Netanyahu-Kerry meeting last week, 16 members of Knesset — most of them from his own Likud party — sent a letter to Netanyahu urging him “not to cede any more parts of the homeland to the Palestinian Authority.” Finally, last Friday, in The New York Times, none other than Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon called to annul the Oslo Accords and dismissed the idea of a Palestinian state.