Opposition leader Tzipi Livni has a colorful analogy that goes something like this: “The Israeli managers of negotiations with the Palestinians think they are entering a bazaar where everyone bargains and yells – yet then they discover they entered a luxury boutique where people conduct themselves politely and quietly, and mostly where the prices are set and there is no bargaining.”
This week at the “White House boutique” at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC, the store owner is hosting the nagging client from the Middle East and wishes to fit (almost violently) a suit for him. So Israel’s prime minister doesn’t like the suit’s colors? It’s too large and expensive? Well, the boutique’s owner, Mr. Obama, moved from Chicago to Washington less than two years ago and he’s determined to succeed.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu started his second premiership term enveloped by a sense of history and a dream bordering on messianism: He will be Menachem Begin, the second edition. Yet not Begin of the peace with Egypt heaven forbid (?), but rather the Begin of the Iraqi reactor bombing in 1982.
Netanyahu, with great degree of justification, views the Iranian nuclear program as an existential threat for the State of Israel; he was hoping to enter the annals of history as a new Churchill, the man who saved humanity from the claws of the new Hitler.
However, with the passage of time, and after thoroughly studying the issue, Netanyahu realized that the handing Iran’s reactor needs to be put off, which to a large extent means an end to his dream. Now, he arrived at the Oval Office to face the most volatile issue in his view: An agreement with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu’s problem is that he has not yet “come out of the closet,” assuming he will ever come out. Sitting at the PM’s Office in Jerusalem, Netanyahu already knows (as do almost all other decision-makers) that any solution with the Palestinians will be (in Israeli eyes) a center-leftist solution.
In this context, many Likud ministers (not publically) and voters today hold at the same position that only Israel’s communist party adhered to two decades ago: The two-state solution. In his Bar-Ilan speech and at other opportunities, Netanyahu has already distanced himself greatly from the Right. Today we can confidently say that he is at the center of the political spectrum, while eying the Left.
‘Why are you teeth so big?’
Now, in Washington (if not this week then later on,) he is expected to look even more to the left. For the Americans, an eye doctor that would shift his glance back to the Center and Right is out of the question.
However, Netanyahu will have to deliver results in the near future, and in fact undertake the unbelievable leap required of him: His decision on the issue of the construction freeze in the territories, even before the September 26 deadline, will be more than a hint regarding his intentions for the future. The Americans and Palestinians will view the freeze as a test case.
Everyone knows and understands that Netanyahu does not wish the freeze to continue, but there’s no way that any decision he will make on the matter would pass quietly. Any change to the current situation necessitates a new decision, a new decree to be issued, and a mad commotion.
If he allows construction to go on in the “settlement blocs,” people will immediately ask “which blocs”? According to Dan Meridor’s view? The blocs the way America sees them? And what do the Palestinians have to say about it? All this will happen while the bulldozers roar on the ground. People received permits to build and they shall build. Passivity in this case means construction, and plenty of it.
The Palestinians did not arrive in Washington in order to make it easy for Netanyahu. The opposite is true; they feel they are riding high given Obama’s attitude to Israel, and they will tie ongoing negotiations to ongoing construction in the territories. And then, at the Oval Office, Obama shall wait for Bibi with the following question: “Well, you really want to ruin the historic chance for peace with the Palestinians because of some houses, a convenience store, and a synagogue?”
That will be the moment, this week or in a month or six months from now, where Benjamin Netanyahu will have to make a personal, historic decision. Ever since he entered politics, Netanyahu has feared risky moves. He is pushed to take decisions because of threats, and this is, apparently, what awaits him at the White House later down the road.
If Netanyahu relaxed in the past few weeks over the US attitude, following Barack Obama’s smiles, he would do well to read the childhood story of little red riding hood, where the girl asked the grandma-wolf: “Why are you teeth so big?”
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