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Economist: A Peace Process That is Going Nowhere

April 12, 2014


"The only way this bleak prognosis could change is if Mr Netanyahu himself were to 'do a Sharon'—that is, to defy his own Likud party, forge a new outfit, reshape his coalition, and—in an expression that often comes up in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv—'cross the Rubicon' on the way to two states."

ZE'EV ELKIN, Israel's 43-year-old deputy foreign minister, who emigrated from eastern Ukraine in 1990, chuckles about the rise of "Russians" into his country's highest posts. The foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, hails from Moldova, once part of the Soviet Union. "Recently the ministers of tourism, absorption, diaspora affairs, the head of the Jewish agency—they've all been Russians," jokes Mr Elkin. Most Russian-Israelis, he notes approvingly, are "right-wing", meaning that they are hawks on Palestine.

Mr Elkin openly opposes—under any circumstance, he breezily asserts—the stated desire of his prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, for a Palestinian state to co-exist alongside Israel, something John Kerry, America's secretary of state, is failing to achieve after nearly eight months of frenetic diplomacy. A Palestinian one, however hedged about, would, says Mr Elkin, "threaten the existence of a Jewish state." Better, he adds, to annex a chunk of the West Bank, the core of the Palestinians' would-be state, to Israel. These days the West Bank, he adds with another chuckle, is "the most stable part of the Middle East".

Mr Elkin is not an oddity in flatly opposing his prime minister from within his ruling Likud party, on what is still the most contentious issue in Israeli politics. A sizeable majority of Likud's central committee and most of its 20 members in the 120-seat Knesset, Israel's parliament, also oppose the idea of two states, though Mr Netanyahu formally endorsed it, albeit tepidly, five years ago. Indeed, says Mr Elkin, only "two or three" Likudniks in the Knesset back the prime minister wholeheartedly on this issue. Yet Mr Elkin ran the foreign ministry for a year when Mr Lieberman, under investigation for corruption, stood down from the office until last November.

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