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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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Netanyahu was openly against the Oslo Accords but promised to uphold them once elected. As such, the task of pulling out of Hebron, the last West Bank city Israel was still fully occupying in 1996, was now in his lap. He insisted on renegotiating the accords over several months until the sides reached a new agreement, called the "Note for the Record," in early 1997. It produced a division of the city that neither side is happy with – especially Palestinians, who can't enter once-vibrant areas of Hebron because of their exclusive use by about 500 Israeli settlers.

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"The problem, then as now, is that Netanyahu can only see everything in terms of Israel's security needs and does not realize that the Palestinians need security as well," Rajoub says. "We feel we're trying to accommodate the American position in the Middle East, which for the first time has exerted pressure on Israel. But will Netanyahu act modestly and respond to the positive attitude of the Palestinians? I think neither his difficult character nor his alliance with the settlers and the extremists will allow him to move toward peace."

Mr. Meridor, once referred to as one of Likud's "young princes," insists Bibi has come far from where he started. But the maximum he is willing to give, he says, may not meet the minimum of what Palestinians feel entitled to receive. "When someone that high, of that stature, a leader of a nation and a political party, proposes that we are moving towards two states, it has a very important effect on the politics of this country, on the philosophy, on the Weltanschauung," says Meridor.

"I say this because I think he meant it. Does that mean he will go the length of the whole road necessary to get an agreement? I'm not sure. And I'm not sure that even I am ready to go as far as the Arabs want, although I'm ready to go a very long way. But I think he has crossed a bridge."

IN PICTURES: The Gaza flotilla and the aftermath of the Israeli naval raid