With Israeli voters preparing to head to the polls, much ink has been spilled in the last 24 hours about one putative sign of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's growing desperation -- his decision to "reverse" his previously stated support for a Palestinian state. The "reversal" narrative is, however, based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what Netanyahu has stood for throughout his public life. In fact, whatever the outcome of tomorrow's elections, it's important to dispense with the misguided notion that Netanyahu has ever been an honest broker for peace.
His recent machinations regarding US negotiations with Iran over the latter's nuclear program are little more than an affirmation of a long-standing fact -- Netanyahu has repeatedly over-hyped and misrepresented the actual state of the Iranian program. In doing so, he has frequently been at odds with the best estimates of Israeli intelligence leaders and has resorted to evermore overblown rhetoric and political chicanery to try to conceal that reality. Leaving aside his ill-conceived Congressional stunt earlier this month, a just-as-revealing if much lower profile incident from January merits mention. When a bipartisan delegation of six US Senators visited Israel earlier this year, they were scheduled to have a security briefing with Israel's Mossad on the Iranian nuclear program. Because the Mossad was going to deliver a less alarmist and reckless message than Bibi can countenance, he actually scuttled the briefing. Only when Tennessee Republican Bob Corker threatened to go home, did Netanyahu relent. The episode is a classic encapsulation of Bibi's fecklessness.
On the all important question of dealing with the Palestinians, needless to say, the story is no more encouraging. I wrote last summer about the Likud Party's long-standing opposition to any far-reaching territorial compromise that could actually be the basis of a viable Palestinian state. That history is directly relevant, of course, to Netanyahu's fundamental lack of reliability as a serious negotiating partner.
I am reproducing some of that piece here:
Too much political discussion in the United States about Israel/Palestine proceeds from the premise that Palestinians have no other interest than to destroy Israel and drive the Jews into the sea. Therefore, it is said, well-intentioned Israel has no viable negotiating partner for peace. The political reality on the ground does not conform to such a simple-minded tale of good vs. evil. Israeli hardliners in power have repeatedly rejected any basis for a viable Palestinian state. Indeed, Prime Minister Netanyahu's qualified statement in support of a two-state solution in 2009 -- which his American apologists repeatedly invoke to demonstrate his "moderate" bona fides -- was characterized by a member of his own cabinet as "the spin of our lives." In fact. Likud leaders have said unequivocally that no two-state deal is possible. And just three weeks ago, speaking at a press conference, Netanyahu said:
"I think the Israeli people understand now what I always say: that there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan."
As David Horovitz wrote in The Times of Israel:
"He wasn't saying that he doesn't support a two-state solution. He was saying that it's impossible. This was not a new, dramatic change of stance by the prime minister. It was a new, dramatic exposition of his long-held stance."
In other words, no independent Palestinian state. Period. Ever.
Arab leaders are accused *all the time* of making one set of (conciliatory) statements in front of some audiences in English, while revealing their (true) rejectionist feelings in front of others, in Arabic. To the extent that this is true, one could certainly say the same about Netanyahu -- relatively conciliatory and reasonable-sounding statements for international audiences. And altogether different rhetoric for internal consumption. Bibi is, after all, a master -- like many politicians -- at speaking out of both sides of his mouth.
Events in recent weeks have only affirmed what those paying even cursory attention have long known about Netanyahu. He may believe that he is serving the best interests of the Jewish people, as he understands them. But more than anything, he has been a servant of fear, a tribune of reaction and, ultimately, an obstacle to any enduring or just peace. His most recent election maneuvering doesn't represent a retreat or reversal, only a crystallization of all that he has ever been as a political leader.
(*The phrase, "servant of fear," comes from my friend AK).
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