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Thursday, August 12, 2010

If only he were that tough

Columnist George Will is visiting Jerusalem this week. Will has apparently paid a visit to the Kirya (the government office complex on the outskirts of downtown), where he visited with Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Two photographs adorn the office of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Together they illuminate a portentous fact: No two leaders of democracies are less alike -- in life experiences, temperaments and political philosophies -- than Netanyahu, the former commando and fierce nationalist, and Barack Obama, the former professor and post-nationalist.

One photograph is of Theodor Herzl, born 150 years ago. Dismayed by the eruption of anti-Semitism in France during the Dreyfus Affair at the end of the 19th century, Herzl became Zionism's founding father. Long before the Holocaust, he concluded that Jews could find safety only in a national homeland.

The other photograph is of Winston Churchill, who considered himself "one of the authors" of Britain's embrace of Zionism.
After reminding us that one of Obama's first acts in office was to return to Britain a bust of Churchill that George W. Bush had kept in the White House's oval office, Will goes on to explain why he believes President Obama will not be able to ply Netanyahu around to his positions.
Arguably the most left-wing administration in American history is trying to knead and soften the most right-wing coalition in Israel's history. The former shows no understanding of the latter, which thinks it understands the former all too well.

The prime minister honors Churchill, who spoke of "the confirmed unteachability of mankind." Nevertheless, a display case in Netanyahu's office could teach the Obama administration something about this leader. It contains a small signet stone that was part of a ring found near the Western Wall. It is about 2,800 years old -- 200 years younger than Jerusalem's role as the Jewish people's capital. The ring was the seal of a Jewish official, whose name is inscribed on it: Netanyahu.

No one is less a transnational progressive, less a post-nationalist, than Binyamin Netanyahu, whose first name is that of a son of Jacob, who lived perhaps 4,000 years ago. Netanyahu, whom no one ever called cuddly, once said to a U.S. diplomat 10 words that should warn U.S. policymakers who hope to make Netanyahu malleable: "You live in Chevy Chase. Don't play with our future."
Will is right about the coalition, but Netanyahu's reputation here is that he is one of the most pliable politicians that this country has. From the Why Why Wye agreement of his first term, in which he gave up most of Hebron, to the current 'settlement freeze' in Judea and Samaria, which includes a de facto freeze in Jerusalem, most Israelis would tell Will that while Netanyahu's heart seems to be in the right place, his policies tend to reflect the last and strongest pressure that is placed upon him. Jeffrey Goldberg's magnum opus on Iran has a view of Netanyahu that is far more familiar to most Israelis:
BEN-ZION NETANYAHU—his first name means “son of Zion”—is the world’s foremost historian of the Spanish Inquisition and a onetime secretary to Vladimir Jabotinsky, the founder of the intractable, “revisionist” branch of Zionism. He is father to a tragic Israeli hero, Yonatan Netanyahu, who died while freeing the Jewish hostages at Entebbe in 1976; and also father to Benjamin, who strives for greatness in his father’s eyes but has, on occasion, disappointed him, notably when he acquiesced, in his first term as prime minister in the late 1990s, to American pressure and withdrew Israeli forces from much of the West Bank city of Hebron, Judaism’s second-holiest city. Benjamin Netanyahu is not known in most quarters for his pliability on matters concerning Palestinians, though he has been trying lately to meet at least some of Barack Obama’s demands that he move the peace process forward.

“Always in the back of Bibi’s mind is Ben-Zion,” one of the prime minister’s friends told me. “He worries that his father will think he is weak.”


Many people in Likud Party circles have told me that those who discount Ben-Zion’s influence on his son do so at their peril. “This was the father giving his son history’s marching orders,” one of the attendees told me. “I watched Bibi while his father spoke. He was completely absorbed.” (One of Netanyahu’s Knesset allies told me, indelicately, though perhaps not inaccurately, that the chance for movement toward the creation of an independent Palestinian state will come only after Ben-Zion’s death. “Bibi could not withdraw from more of Judea and Samaria”—the biblical names for the West Bank—“and still look into his father’s eyes.”)
That Knesset ally got it right. Will has mistaken Bibi for Yitzchak Shamir.


At 4:34 PM, Blogger Daniel said...

The Bibi /Ben Zion story reminds me of Mad. Magazine's satire of the Godfather 2, when Michael Corleone says "nothing is to happen to Fredo as long as mother is alive.Let's put a contract out on mother "

At 7:45 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Netanyahu has to meet his real test. But his performance in the Mavi Marmara episode was not one of his finest hours.


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