You could almost hear the collective sigh of relief emanating from Jerusalem to Washington to Brussels as Israel's Labor Party signed off on a coalition agreement this week with Benjamin Netanyahu. The deal means that Netanyahu will become Israel's next prime minister with the broader base that he had long sought, but that had appeared to elude him until the 11th hour.
Netanyahu will ascend to power as Israel faces a host of external threats — from Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah. And he will have the unenviable task of heading a potentially unwieldy Cabinet comprised of ministers from ideologically opposed parties with vastly divergent agendas.
Still, the fact that he was willing to give away so much to secure the support of Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and his Labor Party, including several key ministerial posts, is a hopeful sign.
Both before and after the Feb. 10 elections, Netanyahu had refused to articulate his true intentions with regard to the Palestinians, steadfastly refusing to publicly endorse a two-state solution, however elusive that goal might be given the current state of affairs.
Yet even as he penned agreements with several religious and hard-line parties, he continued to vigorously pursue first the centrist Kadima, then Labor, to secure a broader, more stable government. His determination demonstrated that he understood what was at stake — both in terms of his ability to govern and in regards to the international arena — if he secured a more narrow, hard-line government.
Within minutes of the deal, voices of opposition arose from within Netanyahu's own Likud Party. Opponents worried that he had given away too much. Over at Labor, equally anxious members accused Barak of selling his soul in order to hold on to his position of defense minister. After a contentious gathering, only a slim majority of Labor's Central Committee bought Barak's argument that Labor's inclusion in a Likud-led government was good for the country.
Some say Israel shouldn't worry about world — or even American — opinion when it comes to matters of state and security. But Netanyahu is too astute to ignore the global arena, and he clearly doesn't want to embark on a collision course with the Obama administration, which has made the quest for peace in the Middle East a top priority.
It is encouraging that in his deal with Barak, Netanyahu agreed to abide by all of Israel's international agreements, which presumably includes accords that foresee an eventual Palestinian state.
The truth is that there's little Israel can do at this juncture, as Hamas still seeks the destruction of the Jewish state and continues to rule Gaza.
We can trust Netanyahu not to sacrifice Israel's security in the quest for peace. But neither should he stop trying. It is the Israeli way.