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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.”

3 thoughts on “A ray of hope: maybe Bibi has no principles

  1. So if somehow Bibi and Barak could have a child together (a coalition child), it could grow up to be the ideal politician. Barak listens to now one seriously thinking that he knows it all already; Netanyahu caves in to everyone and promises everyone. A cross between the two might produce a politician that listened to everyone but only took some of them seriously.

    Actually I imagine that well Bibi was in the U.S. and in Israel he observed successful American politicians like Bill Clinton who always agreed with the last person he spoke to.

  2. Bibi is far more accountable to the Israeli electorate than he is to Obama. (He knows that his leadership of the knesset is VERY THIN. It took three months to firm a coalition, and likud took second place in the election).

    Obama is doing very well on this.

    I don’t think much peace is possible with Netanyahu as prime minister. I think the most that can happen is to change hearts and minds, in the same manner that the liberal left since Lebanon in the 80’s.

    The strategy has to be electoral in Israel, and containment of Netanyahu’s wilder “advisors” relative to Israel. Obama has SUCCEEDED (so far) in compelling Israel not to initiate military attacks on Iran unilaterally.

    The objective reality of Iran is the same, still funding, arming, encouraging terrorists (directed at Israeli civilians – including Hezbollah operations in Egypt), and still extending a heavy hand to shift the center of power in the Persian Gulf and Islamic world from Arab to Persian nucleus. Accompanying that effort is the intention to scare the US. (Proposal to settle petro-exchanges in Euros rather than the global norm of dollars.)

  3. Richard says:
    I don’t think much peace is possible with Netanyahu as prime minister

    Richard, peace isn’t possible no matter WHO the Prime Minister is. Have you forgotten that “2-stater” Prime Minister have been in power for the last 10 years and 14 of the last 17 years? Did they get peace? No, instead they gave us 3 bloody wars in the last 9 years, and 2 wars within the last 3.

    I find it rather amusing how, before the election, so many “progressives” were saying how dangerous it would be if Netanyahu would be elected, now they turn around and expect him to fold up like Begin and Sharon.
    I don’t know how this upcoming meeting is going to turn out but there are several points to remember
    (1) Unlike Netanyahu’s first term, he is the experienced party in the meeting. Obama is a neophyte at this business.
    (2) Netanyahu has strong support at home for the the “no 2-state solution” position his government has been talking about recently. Yes, I saw the polls saying that he is not popular. This, I believe, is due to the inflated cabinet and economic stringencies they have dediced on. On the Palestinian-foreign policy front I think he has a national consensus behind him. Yes, many Israeli would, in theory, support the “2 state” policy, but ALL polls shows strong majorities believing it is not achievable, at least at the present time. Thus, if Obama thinks he can play games like Clinton did and try to go behind his back and mobilize Israeli public opinion against him, it will fail.
    (3) As usual, the “progressives” all assume that the whole question is “what concessions will Obama force out of Israel?”. But, I want to know “what concessions is he going to force out of the Arabs”? In fact, there does seem to be awareness of this problem in the Administration, because there has been talk about somehow persuading the Arab countries to make some sort of gestures toward Israel. They won’t succeed in getting any, though.
    (4) Any attempt to make explicit linkage between Israeli concessions and the Iranian problem will certainly boomerang. If Iran is a threat to the Gulf States and even Europe and the US, concession to the Palestinians will only show the Iranians that Obama is a fool and they can get away with anything. In the early 1950’s, the US was trying to get the Egyptians to sign the “Baghdad Pact” (formation of the CENTO treaty organization) and they tried to pressure Israel to give up Eilat as a sweetener. Nasser wasn’t interested even if he got Eilat.

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