New Caucus

The Anti-Two-Staters Dominating Israel's Government

06.11.13 7:15 PM ET

As Ali Gharib wrote in these pages last week, Israel’s Deputy Defense Minister announced loud and clear on Thursday that the government in which he sits, the government put together and ostensibly headed by Prime Minister Netanyahu, would block any effort to establish a two-state peace with the Palestinians, and that moreover, the Likud, the party to which he and the Prime Minister both belong, is “legally” prevented from supporting any such resolution of the conflict. Interestingly, Danny Danon made this announcement in the course of an interview with the English-language website Times of Israel, and it’s worth remembering that the English-speaking world is where both Secretary of State Kerry and President Obama reside. Coincidence? Who can say?

Late yesterday, The Forward’s J.J. Goldberg wrote that Danon is hardly the only in-house refuesnik, and that indeed,

coalition whip Yariv Levin of Likud—he’s the guy in charge of rounding up Knesset votes whenever a bill comes to the floor—announced Wednesday that he would be assuming co-chairmanship of a new Lobby for the Land of Israel caucus within the Knesset to oppose any territorial concessions in the West Bank.

Levin is set to launch the new caucus with his fellow coalition hawks on Tuesday evening; Gil Hoffman reports in the Jerusalem Post that it will boast 35 Members of Knesset, “plus the outside support of several cabinet ministers who cannot join caucuses”—which, according to Arutz 7, includes Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, Housing Minister Uri Ariel, and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, “to name a few.” Goldberg does the math and finds that Levin’s caucus appears to now be home to a majority of Netanyhu’s 68-member government coalition. (Also notable is the fact that two members of Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party have joined the caucus, despite of their party boss’s professed support for a two-state solution.)

Levin told the Jerusalem Post that “this is not intended to be a maneuver against the prime minister, and it should not be interpreted that way," but it’s just a little bit hard for any observer of Israeli politics not currently under a rock to see it as anything but.

After all, Levin is also the author of a bill intended to render Israel’s democracy subservient to its Jewish nature, and is numbered among Likud’s hard-right younger generation, a group which includes not only Deputy Defense Minister Danon, but also Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin (on record as wanting to extend Israeli sovereignty over “the maximum” of the West Bank) and Deputy Transportation Minister Tzipi Hotovely. As Goldberg notes,

after doing well in the Likud primaries last fall, the group was expecting that a few of their number would be appointed ministers in the new cabinet. Instead they all received deputy ministerships, a snub that’s only fueled their readiness to confront and embarrass Bibi.

Netanyahu has said that these MKs don’t speak for the government, and that neither does Danon. But if their views represent the opinion of more than half his coalition—who on earth does speak for the government? Four years ago, Netanyahu told an audience at Bar Ilan University that he would pursue a two-state peace—are we to honestly believe that that “commitment” carries more weight than the people who get to vote on it (should he, you know, ever bring it to a vote)?

Funny side note: Yariv Levin, founder of the Land of Israel Caucus, is also on recent record as being very annoyed with Justice Minister Tzipi Livni over appointments to the Knesset’s Judicial Appointments Committee. Venting his irritation to Haaretz, he said:

The main problem is that members of the current coalition are systematically seeking to hamper each other instead of working together … Ministers veto one another instead of looking for ways to cooperate with each other. That is the coalition’s main problem.

There’s a Hebrew word for people like Yariv Levin: Chutzpadik. And there’s an English word for governments like Netanyahu’s: Troubled.

That last word also applies, in case you’re wondering, to diplomatic efforts like those of John Kerry.