Whether or not the new Palestinian coalition of Abbas and Hamas is going to be stable is still an open question. Taking previous attempts to reach Palestinian unity into account, one should not be surprised to see this in-your-face political maneuver crumble fast. But one achievement of this shaky coalition is quite clear: it makes Netanyahu’s coalition more stable. No Israeli party is going to have to quit the coalition to protest against an agreement between Israel and Abbas (see how Naftali Bennet responded to the news). No Israeli party is going to quit the coalition to protest the lack of agreement between Israel and Abbas (see how Lapid and Livni responded to the news). So once again, a Palestinian move serves to solve political headaches for the Israeli Prime Minister.
Whether the Israeli coalition was even in danger to begin with is debatable. Minister Naftali Bennet has been making threats in recent weeks for reasons beyond rational explanation. He has little to gain from leaving the coalition and can potentially lose the power that he has today because of, well, a threat made without proper contemplation. There were also people hinting at a possible Tzipi Livni move, if talks with the Palestinians break because of an Israeli rejectionist approach. Livni, according to most recent polls, has zero interest in new elections, unless her real dream is to retire: the voters, according to the polls, don’t give her enough votes to pass the new and higher electoral entry bar. In other words: her party, Hatnua, will be eliminated.
We have just updated our Poll Trend tracker, in which you can find all the numbers and some more analysis of recent polls. Be warned, though: they are confused and confusing.
Does Abbas seriously mean it? Does he really want to have Hamas as a new partner, or is it just another way for him to wave a stick by which to demonstrate that the lack of negotiations has a price? Israel promptly reacted to the news of renewed Palestinian unity and canceled a meeting with the Palestinians. Every stick has two sides to it, and every Palestinian move finds its parallel Israeli response. Same moves as usual, same responses, over and over again. Was Netanyahu right to cancel the meeting? Of course he was. Could he have still let the meeting take place and wait for the next one to announce cancelation? Yes, he could have done that too. The bottom line for Netanyahu, though, is very simple: some Israelis are going to blame him for not being serious enough in the peace talks and for driving Abbas into Hamas’ hands (see Labor leader Herzog's response). But very few Israelis are going to demand that he negotiate with a government in which Hamas sits in the driver's seat.
A veteran Israeli journalist, Rafi Mann, posted on his Facebook page a photo that tells the story of two narratives succinctly. Two front pages of two newspapers from yesterday are photographed in this photo, the front pages of Haaretz – a far-left paper – and Israel Hayom – a Netanyahu-backing paper. Two newspapers, two main headlines. One says: “Abu Mazen proved: he doesn’t want peace”, the other says: “Abbas ready to keep negotiations going and security cooperation”. Haaretz’s Israel is supposed to blame Netanyahu – Israel Hayom’s Israel blames Abbas. The proportions are obvious: according to latest circulation surveys, close to 40% of Israelis read Israel Hayom, about 6% read Haaretz.
As you can see in our updated Poll Trends tracker, the new and trendy political startup – Israel is surely the startup nation for new parties as well as other things – is the party, yet to be formed, of former minister Moshe Kahlon. His appeal is built around social-economic issues. His popularity could give you a sense of the type of topics that drive Israelis to the polls these days. It is not about the peace process, Abbas, or Hamas, it is about the economy (in Israel, it wasn’t always about the economy – and the famous “it’s the economy, stupid” dictum doesn’t apply). So yes, maybe Israelis are delusional to believe that they can focus on other things while the occupation is still in place – or maybe it is the Palestinians who do not get the fact that as far as Israelis are concerned, if there’s no negotiations, and no advancement, that is mainly for other people to worry about.
Things that expose Israel to criticism:
A. You can’t say one day that negotiations with Abbas are meaningless because he doesn’t represent all Palestinians and doesn’t have a say in Gaza, and say the next day that negotiations with him are meaningless because he now does represent a government that includes Gaza. If Palestinian unity is for real – and that’s a big if – one excuse is eliminated from Israel’s arsenal (leaving it with the other, better, excuse: you don’t negotiate with someone whose stated aim is your annihilation).
B. Netanyahu seemed furious at the Palestinian move, but was he really angry, or was he more relieved? It is my guess that too many people looked at Netanyahu’s response and assumed that it is faked, that he finally found the excuse that he was looking for to avoid compromise. That is to say: Israel might have been the more honest partner in the latest round of talks, but it also failed to convince the broader world public that it truly means business.
The American are “disappointed” by the Palestinian move. Maybe they should also be relieved and use this action as an excuse to end the negotiations farce.