If there ever was a watershed moment that revealed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s flip-flop on the two-state solution, it’s most certainly his announcement Thursday that Likud would unite with Yisrael Beiteinu to form a right-wing super-party ahead of the Knesset elections in January. Despite his proclamation in June 2009 that he would agree to a peace agreement establishing a demilitarized Palestinian state, Netanyahu has refused to take tangible steps toward two states. His now-even-closer alliance with Yisrael Beiteinu founder and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who has never been afraid to sabotage the peace process with inflammatory rhetoric, is proof that he never intends to do so.
On paper, Yisrael Beiteinu and Avigdor Lieberman do support a two-state solution. The plan that Lieberman proposed in 2004, after all, suggested an exchange of territories populated by both Palestinians and Jews between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. He reiterated his proposal in a meeting with U.S. Ambassador Richard Jones in 2006, as detailed in a cable obtained by Wikileaks with the title “Right-wing Lieberman Unabashedly Advocates Transfer Of Israeli Arabs.” Lieberman’s reported views on two states, then, might be best described by the quip Benzion Netanyahu made about his son Benjamin’s own outlook: “He supports it under conditions that they”—the Palestinians—”will never accept.”
The fact that Lieberman officially desires a two-state solution, albeit a blatantly racist one, is negated by the Russian-born politico’s incendiary sound bytes. In April 2009, he said that Israel’s newly elected government “would not be bound by a U.S.-backed understanding to work toward establishing a Palestinian state.” Liberman told Der Speigel in 2010 that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is “a clash of civilizations which you cannot solve with a territorial compromise,” and in 2011 he vowed that Israel would not renew its settlement building freeze “even for three hours.”
Nor does Lieberman hide his disdain for the Palestinian Authority. When there were rumors of rekindled diplomatic contacts with Palestinian officials in September the foreign minister quickly dismissed them, instead accusing the PA of “preparing a groundwork of excuses to shift responsibility for the talks’ failure to Israel” and emphasizing that conflict management was the only option. That same month, Lieberman also called Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas “a liar, a coward and a weakling” whose “rotten regime can’t be saved.” Clearly, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s new best friend has no intention of actually negotiating a two-state solution, and will therefore serve as a loyal ally in the Knesset against those who dare to iterate a desire to move the peace process forward.
Until Thursday, there was hope that Likud might bring a centrist party or two into the next ruling coalition, which would have provided a potential opening for renewed Israeli-Palestinian dialogue. Now, centrist parties will instead flock to the opposition bloc, headed by Labor leader Shelly Yachimovich. The Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu merger may have been a shock to many, but given Lieberman and Netanyahu’s shared allergy to a two-state solution, it should come as no surprise.