Netanyahu: The Art Of The Finesse

Wednesday was supposed to be Benjamin Netanyahu’s day—the first time, during his nearly eleven years as Prime Minister of Israel, that a Republican President greeted him at the White House. Not only had he outlasted Barack Obama but he’d seen the election of a candidate who, during his campaign, seemed to have bought Netanyahu’s pitch. As President-elect, Donald Trump tweeted against the United Nations Security Council’s condemnation of settlements in Palestinian territory, promised to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem, and nominated a hard-line settlement supporter to be his Ambassador to Israel.

Things did not work out as planned. On Monday night, Michael Flynn, Trump’s national-security adviser, who was expected to amplify Netanyahu’s claims of an Iranian threat, resigned. Washington was in tumult over reports of Flynn and other Trump advisers’ communications with Russian intelligence officials. Netanyahu himself arrived compromised by personal scandal and political strain. He is the target of three criminal investigations, and an indictment in any of them could force his resignation, much as corruption allegations forced the resignation of his predecessor and rival Ehud Olmert, in 2008. The most serious of these accusations has undermined his support in Israel’s security establishment, which he purports to represent. Meanwhile, Netanyahu has been cornered by zealots in his coalition, who had assumed, with his encouragement, that Trump’s election would allow them to freely pursue the settlement project, unhindered by talk of a Palestinian state.

Much has been made of Trump’s remarks Wednesday about the prospects for a two-state solution. “I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like,” he said at his joint press conference with Netanyahu. “I can live with either one.” Many saw this as a victory for the far-right elements of Netanyahu’s coalition, but Trump’s remarks were contradictory at times, and complicated for Netanyahu. “Trump said ‘compromise,’ criticized new settlements, said we have ‘to agree,’ “ Mohammad Mustafa, the head of the Palestine Investment Fund, and a confidant of the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, told me. “These sound like positions Israel needs to hold for the two-state solution to succeed.” He added, “But it is obvious that, if we are to have a sovereign Palestinian state, we need to move away from this state of ambiguity as soon as possible.”

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