The Israeli PM is fiercely backtracking on a claim that won him the election but alarmed the world. After saying there would be no Palestinian state on his watch, he now says he didn't say that…but no one believes him and that's now a problem for everyone.
It is difficult to know which is worse - the Israeli Prime Minister’s calculated race baiting and dismissal of a Palestinian state in order to secure his own political future, or his pitiful backtracking as he wakes up to the reality that the rest of the world is pretty much sick of his antics.
Like the pyromaniac firefighter who sets the fire and accepts the bravery award for being the first on the scene to fight it, Netanyahu has eventually been caught in the web of his own duplicity.
He has an established pattern of introducing new ‘non-negotiables‘ into the peace talks while denying the other side any “preconditions“ such as a halt to settlement construction in order for talks to resume.
Then when the talks resume, his new baseline includes his latest non-negotiable.
A classic example was his 2009 unilateral imposition of a condition requiring the PLO to recognise Israel as a Jewish state.
The PLO had long ago recognised Israel’s right to exist as a state, and Netanyahu knew that his new demand would be rejected by the PLO as it would automatically disenfranchise the 20% of Israeli citizens who are Palestinian.
That, by the way is the very same 20% Netanyahu was referring to in his disgraceful election day announcement that the Arabs are voting in droves and his Likud tribe needed to stop that obvious existential threat to a right-wing victory.
There is another important element to Netanyahu’s post electoral back peddling.
It was on American cable networks MSNBC and Fox - not Israeli media outlets, many of which tend to ask Netanyahu actual questions based on what is actually happening in the actually occupied territories.
He is a regular guest on American cable and appears to be able to ‘charm’ many hosts who rarely interrupt his smooth baritone in its regurgitation of a well practiced string of blatant untruths and fearmongering.
The fact is a matter of hours before the election Netanyahu said explicitly that there would be no Palestinian state while he was Prime Minister.
Now he says he didn’t say that.
But he did and it was recorded.
It alarmed world leaders.
It revealed everything those who have tried to work with him either suspected or knew.
Israelis who ticked Likud on the basis of preservation of the occupation status quo have a wholly different reason to question Netanyahu’s sincerity. Good luck with that.
When MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell told him the White House was now reconsidering the diplomatic cover it always gave Israel at the United Nations by opposing UN recognition of a Palestinian state, Netanyahu’s answer - “Well that state would become a terrorist state”.
Conflating the PLO with Daesh by way of Hamas has become his latest stalling tactic.
It was just more from a campaign of fear and loathing which secured him one third of Israeli votes because Israel is now a majority right wing country and fear and loathing plays well with such an audience.
The White House has good cause to keep Netanyahu at bay and President Obama must have congratulated him through gritted teeth.
Thanks to Netanyahu, Obama’s mettle is to be severely tested in any upcoming UN resolution advocating a Palestinian state and/or any effort to revive the peace process (although it is hard to even use that term without wincing).
There is a good argument to be had that the Israeli Prime Minister may well have overplayed this one, particularly if it proves to the world that a change in the Israeli/Palestinian status quo cannot be entrusted to Israeli voters - not until it actually costs them.
American Palestinian Yousef Munayyer presents in an NYT Op-Ed an alternative prism for viewing the Netanyahu victory - as a victory for Palestinians.
As counterintuitive as it might sound, Munayyer argues Netanyahu is now securely positioned as the “internationally recognised face of Israeli intransigence, settlement building and brazen disregard for Palestinian human rights”.
His style has “heightened tensions and harmed relations with Israel’s allies” but his reelection has provided clarity and has placed Israel on a necessary collision course with the rest of the world.
Ideally this will spur more people, organisations and countries to join the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign (BDS) against Israel’s industry in the occupied territories in order to force behavioural change.
It could also invigorate those who have sat on the UN resolutions fence.
Those with skin in the peace process game, or those who just happen to believe in basic human rights have good cause to be unimpressed with being used in a naked political self-preservation manoeuvre.
There is now good cause for an increase in pressure on Israel.
The White House has started with outing Netanyahu for creating not just “daylight between himself and President Obama....but between him and “Democrat and Republican presidents in the United States and every single member of the House of Representatives” who have unanimously supported the two state solition.
That said, Republican Speaker John Boehner has just announced he’s off to Israel on a visit in the next couple of weeks!
Given his infatuation with Netanyahu, he is perhaps on a pre-election mission to discover how race-baiting and fear can win elections.
Good luck with that too.