by William ChurchEditor West Bank VoicesThe newspaper headlines are full of talk of President Obama putting pressure on Israel’s Netanyahu to halt the settlements in East Jerusalem and restart the peace negotiations.   In reality, Israeli internal politics leaves very little room for a solution regardless of actions by the United States.Last month Israel shook the potential for the restart of talks with the Palestinians when it announced that it had approved the development of over 8,000 new homes in East Jerusalem.  This announcement rocked the relationship between Israel and the United States, which has been pushing for negotiations to settle the decades old conflict.Recently, President Obama expressed an increased understanding of the peace process in an Associated Press interview:“The two sides,” President Obama said, “may say to themselves, we are not prepared to resolve these issues no matter how much pressure the United States brings to bear.”The US President’s statement hits close to home and belies the political reality inside Israel and the Palestinian Authority.  Inside Israel, the tide has turned against peace, and inside the West Bank, frustration is near the boiling point from the continued Israeli occupation.The February 2009 elections in Israel signaled the reality of the stalled negotiations. As usual, no single party achieved the 61 seat majority to form a government and that set off a coalition scramble.The Labor Party, which is pro-peace and willing to remove the West Bank settlements, has steadily lost seats over the last three elections.  Its position has shrunk from 21 seats to now 13 seats and at the same time its ally the Meretz party has declined from six to three seats. The Arab parties—also traditional allies—have remained at their normal level that ranges from four to three seats each. This has left the entire Left Wing coalition with only 27 seats out of the 61 needed to form a government.There are many factors that have caused the dwindling influence of the Israeli political Left Wing.  One of them is increasing financial prosperity in Israel and a growing feeling that Israel’s policies have worked against the Palestinians.  They credit the hard-line approach to Gaza with the 2008 invasion and the effect of the so-called security wall in reducing the bombings in Jerusalem.At the same time, the Right Wing of the Israeli political spectrum moved further right when a faction of the dominant right wing party—Likud—split off and joined the extreme right wing nationalist party Yisrael Beiteynu. This has pulled Likud further right to appease Yisrael Beiteynu, its strongest coalition partner.Beyond this movement to the right and loss of power on the left, the real game has been played in the center.  The party of Ariel Sharon—Kadima—lost its coalition in the 17th Knesset and this triggered the 2009 election.  Kadima promoted a two-state solution and, under Sharon, unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and possibly the West Bank.   Without Kadima in power, the impetus for a two-state solution and negotiations have flagged.Kadima, after the 2009 elections, cast its fate with the Labor Party on the left feeling that it might draw its normal ally the Shas party, with 11 seats, to the left and give it the necessary seats to form a government.  This would have been good news for the peace negotiations and the development of a two-state solution.It didn’t work out that way.  The Centrist Shas party in the past had been more preoccupied with issues of Jewish law with its support of the Halakha and has a traditional base of Sephardic Jews.  Shas has some support among Muslims and other groups and until recently was more neutral than pro-West Bank settlements.Unfortunately, Shas, being a proponent of Greater Jerusalem, threw its 11 seats behind the Likud coalition.  This enabled Likud to form a government with 65 seats against the Kadima-Labor coalition’s 55 seats.The point is that Shas has become the lynch pin in the Likud coalition. There is little chance that the parties on the left or right will move or change coalitions. Kadima the other centrist party promotes a two-state solution and increasingly finds itself at odds with the right wing.  Even if it did move back to the Likud coalition, its 28 seats are nearly out-numbered by Likud’s 27 seats and then adding the weight of Yisrael Beiteynu’s 15 seats whatever power Kadima had is diluted. Clearly its position of strength is on the left.This brings up the final point: What did Shas get promised to move to the Likud coalition?  The answer lies with Shas’ recent joining of the World Zionist Organization (WZO).  The WZO supports the settlers but that is not the point.  It also shares the belief with Shas that Jerusalem should be a Jewish city.As the Obama administration pushed for resumed peace talks, the Likud coalition dropped the proverbial other shoe and announced the expansion of settlements in East Jerusalem. The promise to Shas has been fulfilled and now it is clear that Jerusalem is the negotiating chip.  Palestine’s Abbas is caught between a rock and a hard place.Not only has the Likud coalition sent a clear message that it wants all of Jerusalem but it also is clear that a majority of the coalition strongly supports the West Bank settlers. Bluntly, this is a no-win situation for Palestine’s Abbas.East Jerusalem has been, for the Palestinians, the symbol of a two-state solution.  It is the designated capital.  Israel has in effect just sent a message, by announcing the increased settlements in East Jerusalem and continuing the demolition of Arab homes—that Jerusalem is off the negotiating table. Israel confirmed that fact when it clearly stated that the expansion in East Jerusalem did not violate the ban on the settlement freeze in the West Bank because, “It is not the West Bank.”This leaves the issue of West Bank settlers in the negotiating process.  As explained earlier, there is very little support in the ruling Likud coalition for the removal of the Jewish settlers in the West Bank. If Likud agreed to that position it would clearly lose the coalition and force Israel into a political stalemate without a ruling coalition.Not only is there a stalemate in the Israeli government but there is a stalemate in the peace negotiations.  Abbas has lost Jerusalem and he has little chance—with the Likud coalition in power—of removing the West Bank settlers.The key to breaking this stalemate would be for Shas to rejoin Kadima on the left with promises that Jerusalem would be a Jewish city. The new ruling Kadima coalition would have the political will to evacuate the West Bank settlers like they did the settlers in Gaza.  For this to happen, Abbas would have to relinquish Palestinian rights to Jerusalem, but it remains to be seen if he could sell this plan to his own people.So what is Jerusalem worth?  The movie Kingdom of Heaven closes with a meeting with the great Arab leader Saladin.  After taking back the city from the Christians in the movie, he is asked, “What is Jerusalem worth?”  Saladin answers, “Nothing.”  He then turns and smiles and says, “And everything.”If the peace talks resume, they are doomed to failure without Jerusalem realistically being on the table and this will not happen in the Likud coalition.West Bank Voices is a media analysis center.

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