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OP/EXTRA | FARAH STOCKMAN

Right-wingers in Israel can’t have it both ways

The peace talks didn’t falter because of unity between Palestinian factions

US Secretary of State John Kerry, left, listened as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a statement during a press conference in January.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, left, listened as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a statement during a press conference in January. AP Photo/Brendan Smialowski, Pool, File

Israeli politicians in Bibi Netanyahu’s coalition have frequently cited one reason peace talks are a waste of time: the fact that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas only represents the West Bank, while the militant group Hamas controls Gaza.

“Can we even believe a negotiation conducted by half the Palestinian people?” Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, who heads the far-right Jewish Home party, complained in December. “It’s like negotiating on a car with one of two owners. So what’s the point?”

You might think that he’d be happy if that car had only one owner, right? Wrong. Now that Abbas has struck a deal to form a coalition government with Hamas, unifying the Palestinian people for the first time in seven years, Bennett and his ilk have done an abrupt about-face.

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Now unity, not division, is the problem. After news of the unity deal broke, Bennett was quick to condemn the “unity government of terror” and portray it as the reason that peace talks would never work.

Here’s another thing to throw into the “damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t” category: Elections.

In addition to complaining that Abbas is president of half a people, Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has insisted that a peace deal with Abbas will never work because Abbas’ term had long expired.

“New elections must be held in the PA, and a new and legitimate leadership elected,” Lieberman demanded in 2012.

So you’d think that Lieberman would be pleased that the Palestinians have finally heeded this demand by announcing a unity deal that includes new elections.

But no. He’s not. He disparaged the agreement, predicting that Hamas will win the elections in the West Bank. Making peace with a terrorist organization, he said, would be “impossible.”

In truth, neither Bennett nor Lieberman was ever interested in peace talks. Indeed, Bennett threatened to leave Netanyahu’s coalition if the talks succeeded. Netanyahu’s willingness to at least discuss the idea of a Palestinian state made him a minority in his own coalition.

But let’s get real: Bibi was never excited about the talks or the prospect of blowing up his coalition to make them succeed. He may have been playing a shell game all along, designed to keep John Kerry busy until the Palestinians did something beyond the pale that would give Israel a perfect excuse to walk away.

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Now Abbas has done it, and Netanyahu is walking away. But let’s not forget that what Abbas did was what Bennett and Lieberman claimed they wanted.


Farah Stockman can be reached at fstockman@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @fstockman.