Like a Pork Chop at Passover

When the fate of Middle East peace is serially derailed by the booby traps planted by the right wing local yokels inside Israel's coalition government it's time to ask what, pray tell, is going on in Jerusalem?

For the uninitiated, Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition is populated by a xenophobic group of rogue rejectionist zealots. From Israel's disheveled and unsophisticated Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and his ultranationalist Israel Beteinu Party to the ultra-religious Shas Party, nothing, not even crucial ties with Washington seem to matter as long as the hammers can continue to strike nails in illegal housing and settlements. Negotiate over Jerusalem...never!. Stop settlement construction in isolated areas in the West Bank...absolutely not! Antagonize every one of Israel's allies to the point of seriously harming Israel...who cares! They relish burying their heads in the sand, including the sands of time.

It is shockingly evident, if press reports are accurate, that not even Prime Minister Netanyahu knows for certain what untoward designs are being orchestrated by those on whom his majority in the Knesset is dependent. The sad reality is that the leader does not necessarily control those whom he leads.

Apparently, it was sweet music to Israel's tone deaf Interior Minister and his cohorts that they managed the ultimate trifecta: insulting one of Israel's most enduring friends, VP Joe Biden, embarrassing their own Prime Minister, and further antagonizing the Palestinians

Nor does it help at all that those very right-wing politicians hurl tasteless invective at the Obama Administration when they are caught red-handed plunging Israel into another showdown with Washington. Decrying the policies pursued by President Obama in the name of a viable two state solution is extraordinarily disturbing to Americans and to the majority of Israelis who by the today's latest Haaretz newspaper opinion poll by far view President Obama as fair and friendly to Israel. Sometimes I wonder if these Knesset members and their allies were ever taught basic manners by their parents.

The sad truth is that these forces are determined, by hook or by crook, to undermine any potentially promising negotiation with the Palestinians. At that is the fault line that exists today in Israel's body politic. It is that black and white. The black hats are determined to prevent any real progress in the pursuit of Middle East peace and as long as they have the power to stop it...they will.

Alas, these are the types of politicians that Netanyahu cobbled into this coalition after the last election to deny the Kadima party an opportunity to forge a more moderate coalition less inclined to sabotage the prospects for peace at the drop of a hat.

Surely, vast swaths of the Israeli public must be having second thoughts about this state of affairs. However, who else besides the voters who elected them is primarily to blame for this political pox...none other than the more centrist Israeli political leader of Kadima Tzipi Livni - the former Foreign Minister of Israel. She has consistently rejected entreaties from Netanyahu to lead her party into a more politically centered coalition that could (notice I said "could) enable Netanyahu to shed some of the more objectionable parties from his coalition that are dragging his government down into a bottomless pit of international isolationism and flare-ups with Israel's most important ally.

By playing Hamlet and repeatedly rejecting calls for Kadima to join a government of national unity, Livni has accorded unencumbered political license to Israel's right wing zealots to exercise the levers of power that are sabotaging the very peace process that Livni had championed as a foreign minister and Kadima leader candidate.

It just doesn't make a whole lot of sense that when it comes to Israel's security and ties to its most important friend Livni seems so smugly satisfied with her lonely status when so much is at stake for Israel and the future of a durable two state solution. Memo to Livni: it's time to test Netanyahu's commitment to a two state solution by making him an offer he cannot refuse to bring Kadima into the coalition and allowing him to jettison as many Israeli ultra-rejectionists as possible.

This is in no way intended to give Netanyahu a pass at obligatory peacemaking. Rather, it has been all too expedient for Israel's prime minister to hide behind the limitations of maneuver that his existing coalition imposes on him. Ironically, it has been Netanyahu who has consistently tried to cajole Livni into joining his government - enlisting some of her American friends at times to urge her to reconsider. That alone is a pretty good indication that Netanyahu recognizes the peace rejectionist cancer that has taken hold inside his coalition government.

In a few days, Prime Minister Netanyahu will meet President Obama in Washington to try to navigate once again an effort to restart indirect talks with the Palestinians. He will also attend the annual convention of the American-Israel Pubilc Affairs Committee. That is all well and good. Fortunately, Netanyahu appreciates far more than his coalition the importance of Israel's image and its ties abroad. But it is not lost on this White House and its allies that until the coalition in Israel is reconfigured - whether by elections or by a newly minted coalition -- there can be any tangible progress on the key issues defining a viable two state solution. That two state solution is essential not only to Israel, Palestinians and moderate Arab states, but to American foreign and national security, as well.

To twist an old Rodney Dangerfield expression...Israel and its allies need this political mess like Passover needs a pork chop.