Can Israel Walk Back From the Brink?

As you’ve probably noticed in the news, Benjamin Netanyahu has been steadily dismantling the edifice of right-wing propaganda he used to consolidate his support on the Right and win the opportunity to form a new government. He’s now claiming he never renounced a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, which is laughable but I suppose constructive. He’s apologized to Israeli Arabs for using them in an demagogic election-day pitch to, well, Arab-haters. He has not apologized to Americans for using their national legislative chamber to stage an Israeli partisan campaign rally, presumably because that might embarrass the custodians of said chamber, who would appear to have been used as well.

Indeed, Bibi’s American enablers are now using his sudden reasonableness to blame Barack Obama for the deterioration of US-Israeli relations. Would this nice reasonable man really spy on his American allies, and leak damaging material on sensitive nuclear negotiations? Of course not.

Beyond this silliness, the important point may be that having taken Israel to the brink Bibi has at least enough sense to step back, though each time he does this his credibility erodes further. In a web exclusive at Ten Miles Square today, Jim Sleeper suggests Israel has time to avoid a calamitous war, but very little of it:

Does Netanyahu’s Likud Party victory prove that the Israelis are incapable of seizing the moment? Very possibly. This is a polity whose original idealists…are being swamped by “Greater Israel” religious fanatics, nationalist yahoos, real-estate profiteers, a million politically cauterized, right-wing Russian immigrants from the Soviet Union, and their pathetic American neoconservative cheerleaders and funders. Collectively, they have no idea how the nature of war-making and wealth-making have changed and are changing the circumstances under which they think they can win…..

The Atlantic writer James Fallows cautions wisely that detractors from abroad would be as wrong to blame Israelis as a whole for Netanyahu’s victory (and the demagogic intransigence it reinforces) as other observers abroad were wrong to blame all Americans for George W. Bush’s reelection in 2004.

Fallows reminds us that even after Bush won, he changed: “Dick Cheney was corralled; the U.S. undertook no new wars and began repairing some of the relations it had frayed or broken.” The American electorate changed, too, not so much in composition as in judgment: Four years after Bush’s victory, “the same U.S. electorate made an entirely different choice.” Fallows doesn’t predict any such shift by Netanyahu or the Israeli electorate, but he reminds us that elections often have unintended consequences.

It would be a good thing if that were true in Israel today.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.