King Bibi?

Benjamin Netanyahu is on the cover of this week’s Time magazine. The accompanying article, by the magazine’s managing editor Richard Stengel, is titled “King Bibi.” On the cover next to Netanyahu’s photo are the words: “King Bibi. He’s conquered Israel. But will Netanyahu now make peace–or war?”

The theme of the article is that Netanyahu has consolidated his power in Israel, giving him a golden opportunity to surrender to the Palestinians and leave Iran alone. Conditions in the Middle East are constantly changing, but our journalists’ prescription for the area is fossilized and never changes: if only Israel would give a little more, peace would descend.

Here is this week’s cover. The manner in which Netanyahu is depicted suggests that Stengel and his colleagues are not entirely confident that he will “make peace.”

The article is not yet available online except to subscribers, but the Time staff describes it in a blog on the magazine’s web site:

TIME’s cover story this week, written by TIME managing editor Richard Stengel, profiles Israel’s controversial Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. …

Netanyahu, as Stengel writes, stands on history’s cusp: “The question is whether he is a prisoner of that history or he can write a new narrative.” He bears with him the memory of his military service—and the even more painful memory of the death of his elder brother Yoni, a celebrated Israeli commando. He also carries with him the legacy and learning of his father, the late Benzion Netanyahu, a noted, uncompromising Zionist academic.

Like his father, he sees Jewish history as a succession of holocausts. Like his father, he has an almost mystical belief in the abiding power of anti-Semitism, as though it were more biological than cultural.

Sounds like they think he is a “prisoner of…history.” Where on earth could he get the idea that anti-Semitism is persistent?

That baggage hardly makes Netanyahu the most likely figure, then, to calmly address the two great geo-political questions confronting his nation: the threat of a nuclear Iran and the perennial challenge of forging a lasting peace with the Palestinians. Bibi has adopted a hawkish pose on the former that flies, sometimes, even in the face of the intelligence analyses of his own officials.

Actually, Netanyahu’s position on Iran is the same as President Obama’s: Iran under its present regime must not be permitted to become a nuclear power. The difference is that Netanyahu may mean it.

And, under his watch, the peace process has gone moribund — which compelled the Palestinians to break away from talks and take their cause to the floor of the United Nations General Assembly last year.

Got that? They were “compelled” to stop negotiating. By Netanyahu’s intransigence, apparently; this was the position that has “compelled” them to refuse to talk to Israel for the last two years:

Netanyahu’s proposal to the Palestinians is clear: an immediate renewal of peace talks at the highest level without preconditions “until results are reached and in which all core issues to the conflict are put on the table,” including borders, settlements, refugees, Jerusalem, security arrangements and recognition of Israel’s legitimacy.

Time’s blog post finishes by quoting the cover story’s conclusion:

He has

…a governing coalition that will not leak or collapse if he opens negotiations. He will no longer have to look over his shoulder. He will not have to call elections at the drop of a hat. He has not had that before, and it gives him room to maneuver and room to compromise. “Now he is the emperor … he can do anything,” [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas] said last week. “If I were him, I would do it now, now, now.”

Do what now? “Compromise,” apparently. But Israel has compromised again and again, and it is the Palestinians who refuse even to talk.

The choice, writes Stengel, is Bibi’s.

What choice? To withdraw from the West Bank as it did from Lebanon and Gaza? How did those gestures of good faith work out for Israel? For some reason, liberals seem to regard Palestinians as automatons. The choice is never theirs; their conduct, including incessant terrorist attacks, is somehow determined–“compelled”–by others. In reality, it is the Palestinians who need to make a choice: the choice to recognize Israel’s right to exist, to abandon their dreams of driving out or killing the Jews, and to establish themselves as a normal country rather than a band of ersatz “refugees.” When the Palestinians make the choice to lay down their arms, there will be peace; not before. And there is nothing “King Bibi” can do to change that reality.


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