Beyond the Gaza blockade: What drives Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu?
Benjamin Netanyahu's handling of the Gaza blockade flotilla crisis has further isolated Israel in the world and strained relations with Washington. Can a tough nationalist emerge as a statesman?
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At 80, FORMER Ambassador Shoval has a half century of experience in Israeli politics; few active Likud Party figures have had as many years to observe and work with Netanyahu as he has. That is, unless one counts the luminaries of Likud's ideological forerunner, the Revisionist Zionist movement, in which Netanyahu's 100-year-old father, Prof. Benzion Netanyahu, was once a prominent figure. The movement, founded by Zeev Jabotinsky, attracted secular nationalists who were opposed to the practical (read conciliatory) Zionism in the style of David Ben-Gurion, who became Israel's first prime minister. Instead, they promoted the idea of a Greater Israel, arguing for a Jewish state on both sides of the Jordan River.Skip to next paragraph
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Netanyahu's hard line on terrorism may also have been shaped by having grown up in the shadow of his older brother, Yoni, the head of an Israeli army commando unit. Yoni was killed in 1976 in Uganda during Operation Entebbe, in which Israeli soldiers overtook a group of Palestinian hijackers who had seized an Air France plane.
Although the Greater Israel ideology has all but died out from mainstream rhetoric, some in the extended Netanyahu family – and that of his wife, Sara – still hold its ideals dear. It is because of such a right-wing pedigree that many doubt whether Netanyahu is sincere about his ostensible conversion to the concept of two states for two peoples.
Shoval insists that Netanyahu is more practical and less dogmatic than many would believe. "I always said that he was a pragmatist, much beyond some of his friends in the party," Shoval says.
But the fact that it took so much toiling on the part of Obama and his Middle East peace envoy, George Mitchell, just to get to proximity talks is seen as a downgrade from direct negotiations in the past. If there's one thing that many Israelis and Palestinians seem to agree on these days, it's a pessimism about the proximity talks.
"An agreement can only be an outcome of very detailed direct negotiations, and right now that doesn't look like something that will happen in the near future," Shoval says. "The term proximity is a euphemism. Proximity means nearness and what we have here is talks by remote control. It means the Palestinians are not ready to sit down and talk directly."
Palestinians say that is hardly the problem. Jibril Rajoub, a member of Fatah's central committee – a body that holds sway over Abbas – was one of the Palestinians best poised to observe Netanyahu when he was in power in the 1990s. Mr. Rajoub was then the Palestinian Authority's security chief for the West Bank, based in Hebron.