‘Squeezing’ Netanyahu

July 9, 2009 at 9:11 pm | Posted in International | 1 Comment


Spotted a couple of interesting articles in Haaretz today on how the new Israeli administration is already plagued by troubles. The first piece by Barak Ravid reports on the siege mentality within Netanyahu’s inner circle, which is manifesting itself in internal rivalries, leaks and farcical press conferences. The Prime Minister, under frequent attack by an agressive Kadima-led opposition, is desperate to demonstrate progress both domestically and on the intractible conflict with the Palestinians. What’s undermining these aims is an economic recovery plan which may turn out to be far too timid, and the unwillingness of the Obama administration to compromise on settlement expansion. According to Ravid, Bibi isn’t taking it at all well:

Netanyahu appears to be suffering from confusion and paranoia. He is convinced that the media are after him, that his aides are leaking information against him and that the American administration wants him out of office. Two months after his visit to Washington, he is still finding it difficult to communication normally with the White House. To appreciate the depth of his paranoia, it is enough to hear how he refers to Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod, Obama’s senior aides: as “self-hating Jews.”

Next is an opinion piece by Gideon Levy, who speculates that Netanyahu’s mounting troubles might make him more ‘squeezable’ and open to the type of enlightened pragmatism to which ‘strong’ leaders rarely succumb:

Netanyahu’s malleability is actually good news. We have had plenty of strong, determined statesmen. Ariel Sharon dragged the entire country into the first Lebanon War and dedicated most of his career to building settlements. Sharon did this with the determination of a strong leader. No one could have stood in the way of the “bulldozer” from Sycamore Ranch. What was the end result? Large-scale disasters and generations of tears. Sharon did summon the same determination in implementing the disengagement plan, but this does not exonerate him for his past misdeeds. […]

If Netanyahu persists in his malleability, perhaps there is some hope on the horizon. In 100 days, it has already brought us a prime minister who champions the solution once advocated by the radical left – two states for two peoples. He has yet to do anything to advance the magic formula he has suddenly discovered, with horrifying belatedness, but perhaps just a little more pressure on the squeezable premier is what is needed for something to move around here.

Something will move here only if Netanyahu continues his impersonation of a weather vane, changing direction with every breeze. If Washington continues its pressure on him, perhaps there will be a real settlement freeze and then the start of evacuations. This would conflict with his worldview, if he indeed has one, but it would be an encouraging bit of news, and to hell with the slanderous accusations of being squeezable.

It’s certainly a compelling theory, and one which tallies with the Prime Minister’s belated, begrudging concession of the two state solution. But what makes these pieces interesting when read together is that they offer rather contradictory portrayals of his governing style. Ravid’s report paints the Netanyahu team as dysfunctional, erratic, paranoid & prone to irrationality, whilst Levy’s suggests a cynic, an opportunist and a political weather vane guided by an instinct for self-preservation. I suppose his administration might act in ways which fit both these portrayals (or, indeed, neither of them), but I think they demonstrate the effect that a politician’s character can have on the direction of their government. If Netanyahu harbours the self-defeating paranoia and resentments that Ravid suggests, then I suspect that his time office will be short, inglorious and woefully ineffective. Alternatively, if Levy is correct to sense his desire for a success and glory he failed to achieve in his first term, then Bibi may yet allow himself to be dragged by those prevailing winds which his predecessors fought so determinedly to resist. Should that happen, then his term may not be quite the disaster that his critics predicted.


1 Comment »

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  1. They’re not contradictory. They often go together, especially in the short term. ‘Nixonian’ may be a cliche, but it seems apt here.

    Whilst PM Netanyahu’s approach could lead to Likud’s defeat at some point, the rancour stirred up en route may undermine prospects for peace.

    ‘the media are after him, that his aides are leaking information against him and that the American administration wants him out of office.’

    All true, no?

    Consider the alleged ‘self-hating Jew’ comments. Who published it and in what context? What was the provenance of their source? Who was the target of his alleged attack, and why? He may be paranoid, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t out to politically kill him.

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