The legends of Israeli politics, which tend to become better with the passage of years, include the story of a meeting that took place a decade ago between US President Bill Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. As the legend goes, following the meeting Clinton turned to his advisors and asked: “Tell me, which one here is the president of the US?” And to those who failed to understand what he meant, he explained: “He spoke to me as if he was the president of the world’s greatest superpower.”
This legend was probably appreciated by those who are preoccupied with national pride. “This is how an Israeli prime minister should be talking,” they whispered to themselves with great pleasure.
Whether this story is true or merely a political myth, we should hope and believe that in the 10 years that have passed since then, Netanyahu learned plenty and has indeed changed, as he claims. When he arrives at the White House in May, President Obama will not be stunned. We should assume that everything would be prepared and clear to the president, his close aides, and the secretary of state by then.
One should not be jealous of Netanyahu. Obama will ask him, just like President Johnson asked late PM Levi Eshkol, what kind of State of Israel do you want? And should Netanyahu attempt to recycle diplomatic initiatives, Obama will show him the paper bin below his desk at the Oval Office. If Obama has a sense of humor (or alternately, a Jewish advisor,) he would say something in Yiddish about the “cold noodles,” and send the Israeli prime minister to prepare different answers for their next meeting.
Netanyahu apparently knows this. Therefore, there are leaks from his direction in recent days about “preparations,” and “new diplomatic plans,” as well as hints that “Netanyahu understands the issue of two states for two peoples.” I’m guessing that at this time Netanyahu is going through the process that Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir (to a lesser extent,) Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert, and Tzipi Livni went through before.
Will he make history?
Before he made it to the Prime Minister’s Office, Netanyahu had the privilege of talking without knowing too much. In the past two or three weeks he sat at his office, heard briefings, and was presented with amazing and difficult information regarding the State of Israel’s strategic, security, economic, and diplomatic position. Apparently, he discovered that speeches are one thing but reality is an entirely different thing. Dreams of generations and an ideology he innocently believed in, as well as thoughts he’s been having for years, are no longer commensurate with reality.
Yet when Netanyahu closes his eyes for a moment, he sees his father, Bentzion, who doesn’t believe in peace, and Lieberman, and his government and party colleagues, and the education he received at home, and the hundreds of thousands of people who believed in Jabotinsky’s doctrine for generations.
And now he needs to decide who he should fear more. Daniela Weiss and her friends or the Iranian bomb? His father who is waiting at home, or Obama who is waiting at the White House? The two-state solution, or the notion that the entire land belongs to us?
In the hallway near his office, there are photos of all of Israel’s prime ministers, including Begin and Sharon, Rabin and Olmert, who changed their principled positioned completely. Now is Netanyahu’s time: Will history books be written about him, or will his name only be mentioned in the footnotes of those same books?