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A ray of hope: maybe Bibi has no principles

Under normal circumstances, we want the world’s leaders to have moral and ideological consistency and to know who they are. Perhaps, under current circumstances, it is better for Israel to be led by a man who doesn’t have the faintest idea of who he is and relies on others to define him. “Nothing has changed in Netanyahu’s personality,” according to Haaretz columnist Yoel Marcus: “He is not trustworthy, and the last one to pressure him is the one who influences him.”

The Israeli media have focused in the last few days on a chaotic budget battle in which Netanyahu kept caving in to pressure from every imaginable source. He pledged to lower taxes and reduce government spending during his campaign, but –after pressure from the Ofer Eini, head of the Histadrut labor federation, among others– he agreed to higher taxes and more spending. He even agreed to make it easier for workers to organize, after deploring unions for much of his career. Some economists say there is a great deal of fat in the Israeli defense establishment and that Israel can’t recover economically unless that fat is trimmed. Netanyahu agreed to a budget that will reduce defense spending for awhile, but –under pressure from Defense Minister Ehud Barak—he also agreed that all the money that was cut will return to the Defense Ministry’s coffers after two years.

Whether or not these were wise economic moves is beside the point. What is important here is that the Israeli Prime Minister does not seem to have ANY principles. Marcus, again: “There is no connection between what he says today and what he will say and do tomorrow or the next day. Netanyahu’s thinking goes as far as the noontime news broadcast, and his long-range planning goes as far as the evening news on television…He zigzags, perspires and is easily pressured.”

An Israeli television commentator, Amnon Abramowitz, wrote in Yediot Ahronoth that “If, next week, in his meeting [on May 18th] with US President Barack Obama, Netanyahu displays the same flexibility, springiness and elasticity,he will be this season’s surprise.”

So I am dreaming that Obama will summon up all of his rhetorical and manipulative skills and convince Bibi that it will be in his interests to do what the U.S. asks him to do. I don’t see many other sources of hope in the dysfunctional Israeli political system and the divided Palestinian polity. But it can’t hurt to hope that Netanyahu will be so elastic, so flexible, that he will agree to stop ALL settlement construction, agree (perhaps privately) to deal with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas in the cabinet, accept the Arab peace plan as a basis for negotiations, and give the U.S. the time it needs to determine if a new approach to Iran will bear fruit.

There are several possible public images available to the Israeli prime minister, several Bibi Netanyahus to choose from. Catch him at the right moment, and in the right company, he just might choose one that will prevent the region from sliding even further into the abyss. Hey, sometimes hoping, dreaming and praying are the only options available to “realistic doves.”

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