There is so much to talk about on the Israeli and Palestinian fronts today that I don’t even know where to begin, so I thought I would just write about a bunch of stuff in one post.
First up, Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad are apparently now not even on speaking terms, with Abbas refusing to return Fayyad’s calls or schedule a meeting with his own prime minister. I wrote last week about the tension between the two men and what Fayyad might be thinking so no need to rehash it, but to state the glaringly obvious, this is a recipe for absolute disaster. Fayyad cannot continue in his post if Abbas literally refuses to interact with him, and Fayyad leaving will mean the collapse of any PA credibility, much of the PA’s international support will evaporate, conditions on the West Bank will deteriorate which may very well lead to an outbreak of mass violence, and Hamas will move in to fill the power vacuum. Despite everything else going on, this is the most important development of the weekend, and also the one with the potential to create the most long-lasting havoc.
Moving on, Egypt has unilaterally terminated its gas export deal with Israel (technically with East Mediterranean Gas Company, which is the entity that handles the exports), prompting a slew of responses ranging from Shaul Mofaz’s opinion that this is a possible breach of Camp David to Bibi Netanyahu’s Alfred E. Neuman what-me-worry impression since he says that Israel’s natural gas reserves will soon make it energy independent anyway. Netanyahu claims that this is nothing more than a business dispute that has nothing to do with politics, and Egypt says that the government was completely uninvolved in the decision, yet for some strange reason Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon met with the Egyptian ambassador today to get clarification on the reasons behind the gas cutoff. Methinks the the prime minister doth protest too much. This is just the latest headache for Israel on the Egyptian front, and while it is not going to put the peace treaty in jeopardy, Avigdor Lieberman’s contention that Egypt presents a bigger danger to Israel than does Iran is going to be a growing theme on Israel’s right. This is a perfect example of how the conflict with the Palestinians does Israel tangible harm and is not just a public relations problem, since canceling the gas deal is going to be immensely popular in Egypt – where public opinion suddenly matters a great deal – and until the Leviathan and Tamar gas fields are online, the loss of 40% of Israel’s current natural gas supply is going to be felt by Israelis in a big way with higher utility prices. The hollow insistence by both sides that this is purely about business and not about politics means that there is a face-saving way to rectify the problem (Israel renegotiates the deal and agrees to pay a higher price that corresponds to the market), but it is surely a harbinger of more bad things to come between Israel and Egypt.
Finally, there is the open fighting between Netanyahu and Barak over enforcement of the High Court’s evacuation order of Ulpana, with Netanyahu considering enlarging the scope of a military land acquisition order in order to bring the neighborhood under its aegis. Of course, he cannot do so with the defense minister’s acquiescence, and all signs point to Barak standing firm against it. In case you are wondering why Barak is all of a sudden standing up to Likud hardliners and taking on settlements, as he did earlier this month during the Beit Hamachpela mini-crisis in Hebron, it is because his new Atzmaut Party is going to need more votes to meet the Knesset threshold whenever the next elections are called, and Barak figures this is a good way to gain some support from leftwing voters who might not appreciate his recent hawkish stance on Iran. I am glad that Barak is using his muscle to prevent the government from ignoring High Court orders, but the reason this makes it into a blog post summarizing depressing news is that the clash between Barak and the rest of the governing coalition is accelerating, with Likud’s most influential hardline muckraker Danny Danon calling yet again yesterday for Barak to be thrown out of the cabinet. As I have discussed in depth before, Netanyahu cannot do this while confrontation with Iran looms, so what he is likely to do instead is retroactively authorize a number of illegal West Bank outposts in order to placate his base and quiet the potential revolt within Likud. This is not a good development, and just serves as the latest reminder that Israel’s domestic politics do not in any way, shape, or form encourage moderation or long term strategic thinking these days.
P.S. No, I did not forget about the news that Turkey has banned Israel from participating in a NATO summit, but it deserves its own blog post later today.