Politicians can change their minds; after all they’re politicians. But it helps if they are strong-armed. This helps them to save face when they abandon long-avowed positions. In the case of Binyamin Netanyahu, combined European, Russian, and US American pressure may be needed to sway him to abandon a mindset and a set of avowed policies shaped before the first and certainly before the second Intifada. The first Intifada, the “shaking off” of the yoke of Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories best remembered as an uprising of juvenile stone-throwers, brought about a seachange within Palestinian society. It was home-grown rather than PLO initiated, though in the end it was smothered in the handshake between Arafat and Rabin that put the PLO in charge of keeping the peace while Israeli occupation and settlement-building continued.
With the new administration in Israel being sworn in, look out for a return to the agenda of a few well-worn propagandistic causes. While making consiliatory gestures to largely irrelevant moderate Arab and Muslim nations, Netanyahu, in his first address as Prime Minister spoke of the threat of annihilation represented by Iran; this at a time when the US administration is trying a different path, one recognizing the possibility of turning an enemy into a partner for peace and stabililty in the region.
One of the issues likely to return to the forefront with a Netanyahu administration in Israel is the Holy City. Part of the new ruling coalition are those ultra-religious groups that won’t give an inch when it comes to Judaizing the eastern parts of Jerusalem, captured in June of 1967 and since expanded and unilaterally annexed by Israel. It may not be too early for President Obama and Secretary Clinton to remind the new Israeli Prime Minister that Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem defies numerous UN resolutions and that any further enforcement of the harsh residency laws aimed at evicting as many Palestinians as possible from the city will be noted by the international community and by the US government. There may even (gasp!) be consequences, such as the imposition of sanctions on Israeli trade and tourism.
Under Netanyahu, we are likely to see maximum administrative pressure, this side of legality, on Palestinians to leave a city that belongs to them as much as to anyone else. But we are also likely to see secular western governments hesitate to bring pressure to bear on a shrewd politician who has proven in the past that he knows how to pander to the religious right. Considerable political will and a clear understanding of the issues at stake will be necessary to prevent the next blow-up in the Holy City.