And he deserves it. Let me be straight-out honest with you: I always respected Bibi, and I always liked him. Still, I have had a long-time tie to Labor, a bond strengthened through Yigal Allon (of whom you may not know) and through Golda Meir (of whom you almost certainly do know.) They were Labor hawks and disdained those on the Left who thought that the Palestinians would soften if only Israel did first. But this was even before 1967 during the two decades when Israel was locked into what Abba Eban, the great perorator of Zionism, called "Auschwitz borders," a bit of an exaggeration. It was then that the Palestine Liberation Organization was founded and when it and its competitors chipped away at a Jewish state that was without the West Bank, the Gaza strip and those parts of Jerusalem that had been conquered by the kingdom of Jordan, including the ancient Jewish Quarter, the Western Wall, Mount Scopus (where the Hebrew University and Hadassah Hospital stood) and the Mount of Olives (where for millennia the People of the Book had buried their dead.)
It's a joke to think that any of this will be given up or, for that matter, those other parts of the holy city (the "third holiest city of Islam," bullshit) which the Jordanians had treated as a mule town and which Shi'a Islam barely noticed. Before 1967, I used to look at the eastern half of the Ir Hakodesh from the roof of the French Consulate, near the King David Hotel, or from the Catholic cloister across from the Christian quarter within the Walls. Would history have been brought to justice if the Israeli Defense Forces had not moved on the bright June day? Well, the fact is that the Jordanians had moved in the first provocative operation in the city-from U.N. headquarters, no less. All of this ended with the conquest of the Temple Mount.
If you want to read about this narrative, the most authoritative history of 1967 is by Michael Oren, a distinguished Middle East historian who happens to be the Israeli ambassador to Washington. The book is Six Days of War.
Writing in the September 5 Washington Post, Aluf Benn makes the somewhat corny allusion to Richard Nixon and China. Only a politician of the right could have pulled this off...etc. But corny allusions are not always wrong. So the truth is that Bibi did bend to Obama. Still, the bigger truth is that Obama also bent toward Bibi. I would be very surprised if the president were ever again to utter the nonsense rhetoric equating the Jewish catastrophe under the Nazis to the Arab defeat by the Zionists in 1948. Historical comparisons are always dicey. The Holocaust virtually destroyed a people. The defeat of the Arabs of Palestine and the five warrior Arab states in 1948, 1967 and 1973 made a fictional people into a political force. We do not yet know whether this political force will mature into a real people. Or nation. My bet is "no." I believe it will be more like a mini-Pakistan.
Netanyahu has pulled the people of Israel behind the necessity of a Palestinian state...or, rather, the necessity of Israel beginning to stand with America behind one.
Benn, whom I admire enormously and is an old friend, argues:
After reentering the prime minister's office last spring, Bibi changed his tune. The man who had spent his life chanting "No, no, PLO," and explaining why a Palestinian state would mean the end of the Jewish one, has begun singing the old mantra of the Israeli left wing: "Two states for two peoples." The standard-bearer for Israeli conservatism has jumped on the peace bandwagon. As unlikely sights go, it is up there with Nixon shaking Mao Zedong's hand in 1972.
Ten months ago, Netanyahu told me in a phone interview for Haaretz, the liberal Israeli daily where I am a columnist and editor: "I want to promote a peace agreement with the Palestinians. I can bring a deal." I wrote afterward that I believed him, only to receive mocking comments from many readers who called me naive. But I have not changed my mind -- and neither has Netanyahu. Last week's summit in Washington was largely his brainchild: It was he who insisted on direct talks, outmaneuvering Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who had agreed to indirect "proximity talks."
In both his words and his deeds since he took office a year and a half ago, Netanyahu appears to have been reborn as a moderate, level-headed leader. His responses to cross-border attacks from Gaza and Lebanon have been calibrated to avoid escalation. In November, he imposed a 10-month moratorium on Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank. And despite his deep disagreements with Abbas over big-picture issues, Israeli security and economic cooperation with Abbas's Palestinian Authority are stronger than ever. When Palestinian terrorists struck during the Washington summit, killing four Israeli settlers in the West Bank and wounding two, Netanyahu sounded nothing like the Bibi of old. "I will not let the terrorists block our path to peace," he said.
What caused Netanyahu to rethink his long-held ideology? To be sure, he did not go through a midlife left-wing epiphany any more than Nixon did. Rather, he succumbed to American pressure, and this, too, speaks in his favor. Statecraft requires reading power relationships correctly and acting accordingly.
Of course, American liberals and some American Jews will never like Bibi. But if he pulls Obama out of the fire the president will be grateful. And maybe someone will tell Obama that he was in his miserable predicament in the Middle East because he promised too much to the Palestinians for a transaction that couldn't possibly conclude. Or, for that matter, even begin. Now that Rahm Emanuel is running for mayor of Chicago maybe it is he who should tell him.