I created a tiny stir on Twitter earlier this week by comparing Bibi Netanyahu’s pre-election warning about Arab voting to the Jim Crow pols of my youth in Georgia who rattled similar hobgoblins about the “Negro Bloc Vote.” Another parallel is now becoming apparent: just as the southern race-baiters almost invariably called off the hounds for a bit once an election had been won–didn’t want to unduly scare the Yankee “job-creators” and tourists, doncha know–Likud supporters in Israel and in the US seem determined to sweep it all under the carpet. Most notably, Bibi himself is acting like his categorical repudiation of a two-state solution didn’t happen (he can now once again imagine one under all sorts of convoluted circumstances). Jonathan Chait predicted this development just before it happened, and offered his own interesting parallel:
Netanyahu is expected to walk back his denunciation of the two-state solution, which he made in unequivocal terms. Here Netanyahu is reprising tactics employed for years by Yasser Arafat, who would issue maximal demands in Arabic and follow them with conciliatory remarks to the foreign press. Netanyahu may be best understood as Israel’s Arafat — a master of nationalist politics, yet also disastrously lacking any strategic vision, and able to survive only at the deep and possibly fatal cost to his own people’s long-term aspirations.
That sounds about right, though Arafat obviously did not have the kind of support in the US that makes it much easier for Bibi to talk out of both sides of his mouth to Americans. Already, his post-election peace offensive is being reinforced by pols (not all Republicans, by the way) who are urging Barack Obama to kiss and make up with the Israeli prime minister, as though Obama was the one who swooped into Israel at the request of an opposition party and picked a fight with Bibi. Similarly, Obama will be accused of a vengeful flip-flop on relations with Israel if Netanyahu’s manifest lack of interest in a peaceful solution to any of his country’s problems is somehow allowed to affect US policies in the region.
It would indeed be a good idea for Obama and John Kerry and other administration figures to go out of their way to avoid the impression the rift with Netanyahu is a matter of personal pique rather than deep policy differences. But that is in order to make it clear those policy differences cannot be waved away at Bibi’s convenience the minute the ballots are counted and his demagoguery pays off.