Demonizing Netanyahu’s pragmatism

As Scott wrote this morning, Benjamin Netanyahu returned today to the prime ministership of Israel. Netanyahu worked feverishly to put together a broad coalition, and in the end was able to bring in the left-wing Labor party.

These efforts have not stopped Israel’s Western enemies and other liberals from attempting to cast Netanyahu in the role of a right-wing, anti-peace zealot. In most MSM precincts you can’t read about the new Prime Minister without also reading, within a sentence or two, that he does not favor a “two-state” solution — that is, a Palestinian state next to Israel.

The Washington Post’s editors joined that chorus today. It noted that Netanyahu “has never endorsed the creation of a Palestinian state.” Others like to put it that Netanyahu is “skeptical” about such a state.

What’s missing in the Post’s editorial, and in other such pieces, is any argument as to why Netanyahu should not be skeptical about a Palestinian state, or why he should endorse the creation of one unconditionally. The most rational response to the question of whether a new state should be established in an existing state’s suburbs is “what kind of state.” If the new state is to be a sworn enemy under the political control or sway of a terrorist organization, the most rational response, indeed the only rational response, is “no thank you.”

It is in this limited, pragmatic, and open-minded sense that I understand Netanyahu to decline to embrace a two-state solution. This pragmatism was on display in his inaugural address today. As Shmuel Rosner reports, Netanyahu emphasized that Israel doesn’t want to rule the Palestinians or to be occupiers. But he also emphasized the obvious obstacles to a meaningful peace, especially the lack of a credible Palestinian partner. Netanyahu promised to work for peace, but stressed that past attempts to find shortcuts to peace have produced disaster.

Relatively few Jewish Israelis would disagree with any part of this message. If the Washington Post finds it “problematic” and a “dodge,” it should explain where Netanyahu is wrong. To say, as the Post did today, that the two-solution has been “the anchor of U.S. policy in the region” isn’t good enough.

It is easy enough for the Washington Post, or a U.S. president, to insist that Netanyahu accept unconditionally that there be a Palestinian state. But the Israelis are the ones who would have to live alongside such a state. If President Obama overlooks this reality, Netanyahu will have little choice but to ignore his counsel, as the Europeans are ignoring it now.

Fortunately, Obama cannot fire foreign heads of state, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see him attempt to undermine Netanyahu.

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