While no organized political opposition exists, some political figures have tried to make hay over Netanyahu's palpable disdain for cutting a deal with the Palestinians. A "top-ranking statesman" -- widely presumed to be Peres -- told an Israeli newspaper late last month: "The prime minister discounts the entire world. He is not interested in the Palestinians, but this will all blow up in our faces."
Netanyahu, however, has batted away such criticisms by pointing to the tumultuous events gripping the Middle East. After Peres later delivered the same message on the record, though in more diplomatic terms, the premier responded by noting the upheavals in Egypt and Syria as well as Hamas's takeover of Gaza, warning that Hamas could do the same in the West Bank, thereby establishing a "third outpost for Iranian terrorism."
"Therefore," Netanyahu said, "as opposed to the voices that I have heard recently urging me to run forward, make concessions, [and] withdraw, I think that the diplomatic process must be managed responsibly and sagaciously and not in undue haste."
But Israeli politics abhors a vacuum, especially during election season, so a new "solution" has been run up the flag pole -- annexation. This plan involves making "Area C" -- the patchwork of territory that makes up nearly 62 percent of the West Bank and surrounds the 350,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank -- a legal part of the state of Israel. The roughly 50,000 Palestinians living in Area C would be offered Israeli citizenship, including the right to vote.
As for the 2.5 million Palestinians in the remaining 38-plus percent of the West Bank, they wouldn't be offered Israeli citizenship -- but they would get "autonomy" and would be allowed to run their lives without overt interference from Israel. The Jewish state, however, would retain sovereignty over the area, including military control, just in case the Palestinians didn't go along with the program. As for the 1.7 million Palestinians in Gaza, they would go on living under Israeli blockade, cut off from the West Bank.
"It will abolish the claims of those who accuse us of apartheid," says Jewish Home's Bennett, the rising star of this election campaign, in a video about the plan. His envisioned map of Palestinian autonomy, however, recalls nothing so much as old South Africa's bantustans.
Bennett wasn't the first to warm to this idea: He was preceded by several powerful Likudniks who have been publicly pushing for partial or gradual annexation of the West Bank over the last year. One of them is soon-to-be Knesset member Moshe Feiglin, who turned up at a well-attended New Year's Day conference on annexation to suggest yet another creative solution to the conflict -- offer each Palestinian family in the West Bank $500,000 to emigrate.
Netanyahu is a milquetoast liberal among this crowd. The prime minister is not a member of the annexation camp -- it's inconceivable that he would provoke the international community in this way, especially when the world wouldn't recognize the annexation of the West Bank any more than it does Israel's annexations of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. And why should Netanyahu court international outrage when Israel has long been engaged in the quiet, "creeping annexation" of Area C by means of settlement expansion and destruction of Palestinian homes?
So though this brain wave of Bennett and the Likud radicals is unlikely to be implemented anytime soon, it may plant the seeds for future conflicts with the world, which is already losing patience with Israeli intransigence. It doesn't seem Obama will have reason to change his gloomy assessment of the powers that be in Jerusalem anytime soon.