The public spat between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition partner Naftali Bennett over the prospect of some Israelis settlers living under Palestinian rule in the future is unlikely to bring down the government. Bennett, who originally went so far as to suggest any leader who made territorial concessions would not be forgiven for the offense, apologized (and then denied doing so), but the speed with which the premier and his team were able to get the situation under control suggests Netanyahu will remain in charge for the foreseeable future.
And yet the incident does go to show that the aggressive American push for a two-state solution — and specifically Secretary of State John Kerry’s insistence on prodding Israel to jump-start the process rather than the Palestinian Authority or Hamas — is clearly having an impact. Already, in his first year on the job, Kerry has seemingly done more than his predecessor (and likely 2016 Democratic presidential nominee) Hillary Clinton to stimulate an internal dialogue within Israel about the need — some say the existential imperative — to strike a deal. Netanyahu now more than ever appears torn between a fierce skepticism of the Palestinian leadership on one hand, and an emerging sense that his ideological nemeses are correct in forecasting increased international isolation in the absence of meaningful strides toward peace on the other. As Jeffrey Goldberg points out at Bloomberg, the risk is not that Israel will lack the military hardware it needs to defend itself, but that its future deployments will be received with more and more alarm by the West and United Nations, the latter already a gadfly for Israeli conservatives. That Palestinian leadership seems to have mastered the feat of sensationalizing its civilian losses and burying its own inciting actions does not really matter. Netanyahu wants Israel to remain a democratic state with respect around the world, not a pariah that future American presidents keep at arms-length.
Of course, the domestic political imperative for the premier is quite clear — keep Bennett close but not too close while simultaneously denying centrist coalition partners like Yair Lapid the grievance that his government has completely scuttled a two-state solution. But whereas in previous years Netanyahu’s concession that he would like to see peace seemed forced, a sort of grudging concession to the Obama administration, now the premier looks increasingly like someone who is preparing to do something controversial. This was a sort of dry-run to test the power and reach of the ultra-conservative, pro-settler echo chamber. If this is the best they can do, he may feel emboldened to proceed a bit further.