When Israeli PM Netanyahu first came into power, he was a reformed leader, no longer the conservative hawk he was during his first stint as PM. Only last year Bibi became the first Israeli PM to embrace the concept of a two-state solution to the Palestinian crisis and his encore? Announcing a 10 month settlement freeze that had his conservative base furious and his liberal opposition somewhat confused. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long to realize that Netanyahu had not truly changed; settlements continued to expand despite the freeze, relations with Turkey were ruined, Mossad was caught red handed in Dubai, East Jerusalem construction started a spot with the US and civilian activists were killed while trying to break the blockade of Gaza.
Unfortunately for Bibi and his settler supporters, the last year full of blunders may be just too much. After meeting with Former UK PM and current Quartet envoy Tony Blair, Bibi has announced plans to ease the blockade of Gaza and reportedly admitted that the blockade did little to weaken Hamas:
At their first meeting, the envoy handed Netanyahu a document prepared by Blair’s staff that included suggestions for easing the blockade. The prime minister told Blair that he never thought the blockade as constituted was particularly wise, as he understood that the civilian population, and not Hamas, bore the primary brunt.
Could the immense international pressure (from everywhere, but the US) be enough to push Bibi back to the Netanyahu 2.0 that accepted the two state solution? David Remnick of the New Yorker sees a possible renaissance of Bibi 2.0:
The essential question for Israel is not whether it has the friendship of the White House—it does—but whether Netanyahu remains the arrogant rejectionist that he was in the nineteen-nineties, the loyal son of a radical believer in Greater Israel, forever settling scores with the old Labor élites and making minimal concessions to ward off criticism from Washington and retain the affections of his far-right coalition partners. Is he capable of engaging with the moderate and constructive West Bank leadership of Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad, and making history? Does there exist a Netanyahu 2.0, a Nixon Goes to China figure who will act with an awareness that demographic realities—the growth not only of the Palestinian population in the territories but also of the Arab and right-wing Jewish populations in Israel proper—make the status quo untenable as well as unjust?
[tweetmeme] Haaretz seems to think that Netanyahu might be reinventing himself as a more peaceful PM along the lines of Begin, Rabin and Sharon (in the latter stages of their political lives); dealing with the current political situation while concerned with how history will paint him. Wishful thinking. Israel’s decision to loosen the blockade of Gaza most likely has very little to do with a recommitment to peace by its PM. More plausible? Netanyahu looks out of Israel and sees a world increasingly upset with Israeli intransigence, wavering support for Israel among American Jews and the increasing possibility of a one-state, binational solution whose demographic trends would eliminate Israel as a predominantly Jewish state.
I have little faith that Netanyahu has truly reformed himself. That he decided to loosen the ineffective blockade is simply an indication of his realization that Israel’s political blundering and settler dominated policies over the last year has pushed Israel into a corner. Israel is loosening the Gaza blockade because it is a misguided ineffective policy whose implementation and defense has severely hurt Israel’s diplomatic standing.
Has Bibi changed? I doubt it, but he seems to have opened his eyes.