Some days it seems that nobody gets worse press in the US than Prime Minister Netanyahu. Israel’s left-leaning media and academic establishment hate him with a grand passion, they are articulate, speak English, and understand the importance of telling their story here. They are happy to cooperate with their counterparts in the US media, and often with the White House and State Department, where Bibi is seen as an obstacle on the road to a 1949-sized Israel. So Netanyahu is often presented in the US as a symbol of right-wing intransigence or worse.
But Time magazine, which once helped us pronounce “Begin” by saying “rhymes with Fagin,” and whose cover much more recently explained “Why Israel Doesn’t Care about Peace,” has published a story (Bibi’s Choice, by Richard Stengel) which is mostly positive about the PM, despite its overall silly slant: “Will Netanyahu now make peace — or war?” the cover asks, as if ‘making peace’ were something an Israeli leader could do if he just chose to do so!
Nevertheless, Stengel makes it clear that Bibi has experience, brains, and courage. And something else. Here he quotes Bibi:
“When I became Prime Minister, I asked [my father] ‘What attributes does one need to lead a country?’ He was older then and he asked me, ‘What do you think?’ I said, You need convictions and courage and the ability to act. He said, You need that for anything. He then said what you need to lead a country is education, and by that he meant an understanding of history, the knowledge to be able to put things in perspective.
For an example of that understanding, see the PM’s Jerusalem Day speech delivered on Sunday:
We will preserve Jerusalem because an Israel without Jerusalem is like a body without a heart. It was on this hill, 45 years ago, that the heart that unites our people began to beat again with full strength; and our heart will never be divided again.
There are people who believe that if we just divide Jerusalem, which means eventually conceding the Temple Mount – they believe we will have peace. They believe that, but they are wrong. I am doubtful, to put it mildly, that if we grant other forces control over that square above the Temple Mount, we won’t see the situation deteriorate so quickly that will devolve into a religious and sectarian war…
Sustainable peace is made with strong nations, and an Israel without a unified Jerusalem will be like a body with a weak heart. I want to say something else: a nation that is willing to sacrifice its heart will only convince its enemies that it lacks the willpower to fight for anything.
On this last point, he agrees with Israel’s most implacable enemies:
With the two-state solution, in my opinion, Israel will collapse, because if they get out of Jerusalem, what will become of all the talk about the Promised Land and the Chosen People? What will become of all the sacrifices they made – just to be told to leave? They consider Jerusalem to have a spiritual status. The Jews consider Judea and Samaria to be their historic dream. If the Jews leave those places, the Zionist idea will begin to collapse. It will regress of its own accord. Then we will move forward. — Abbas Zaki, former PLO Ambassador
Unlike his predecessor Olmert (probably the worst PM Israel ever had), Netanyahu is not “tired of winning.” He understands, as Olmert did not, that the alternative to winning is disappearing.
While not a coronation, the recent coalition deal provides Bibi with much more freedom to maneuver. And despite what the noisy remnants of the Israeli Left say, most Israelis give him their support. He will need every bit of it to get Israel through what may be the most dangerous period in its history since 1948. Perhaps it will also finally persuade the American media to take him seriously.
What can I add? As an American I’m envious of Israelis, who have a leader who was a combat soldier and is also an intellectual, who actually knows something about history, war, economics and yes, even politics. We, on the other hand…