It's possible that a sorcerer with a particularly black sense of humor has put a curse on every Israeli prime minister since David Ben-Gurion: They are all fated, sooner or later, to confront head-on precisely their worst nightmares. To deal, during their own particular term, with everything they'd wanted to repress, to cause to be forgotten and to put off for their whole lives - in a kind of test of fire that will determine their political fate.
Thus the Yom Kippur War was flung in the face of Golda Meir, who was wallowing in the bathtub of stagnation; thus Yitzhak Shamir was dragged out of that same bathtub into a peace conference in Madrid; thus the terror attacks were flung in the faces of the leaders of Oslo, and the only international constraints that led to real withdrawal form the territories was flung in the faces of the leaders of Likud and the prophets of Jewish settlement.
What, then, does fate have in store for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his second term in office? Best not to ask, if he wants to sleep at night.
But this week, following his meeting with the president of the United States, we nevertheless got a few clues as to the direction in which historical irony has rolled in the case of the historian's son: Precisely everything he feared - the establishment of a Palestinian state and the question of the Jewish settlements in the territories - has already been put in the center of the arena. To a large extent, this is his own fault. Everything that served as lip service or a vague promise for half a dozen prime ministers has, in a tragicomic way, become Netanyahu's test of fire. And all this before he's spent half of his first hundred days in office.
All of a sudden we've forgotten that for nearly half a generation, most of it under a Labor Party government, "the Palestinian state" was an utter taboo. We've repressed the fact that even during the years of jabbering about concessions by former prime minister Ehud Olmert, Kadima, former foreign minister Tzipi Livni (now leader of the opposition), former minister of justice and minister of whatever Haim Ramon and company, the settlements continued to be built and the matter of a Palestinian state was not advanced by even a single centimeter. Forgotten too is the boasting by Ehud Barak (now defense minister), during whose term as prime minister not a single settlement was dismantled. It has even been forgotten that prime minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement from Gaza had nothing to do with the establishment of a Palestinian state. Indeed, perhaps the opposite.
Moreover, the debate over whether the Palestinians are at all ripe for establishing a real state - an issue that became even more acute after the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip - has also evaporated. All of a sudden, precisely because of Netanyahu's declared opposition to it, "the establishment of a Palestinian state" has become a political hammer, taken for granted, nearly a fait accompli.
Perhaps this would not have happened with such intensity and rapidity had Netanyahu been able to propose some sort of positive vision instead of focusing, as he always has, on sowing the seeds of fear and fanning anxieties. But in his obsessive concern with repelling the thing he most fears - he has brought it down upon himself.
Another irony is that it was all born out of public relations spin, another area to which Netanyahu devotes himself and in which he has in fact failed again and again: Livni is the one who, in the talks on establishing a coalition, held out the question of the Palestinian state to Netanyahu as though it were a kind of litmus test. From this experiment Netanyahu emerged red in the face and acidic. The political system and the media in Israel swooped down on this, and the White House swooped down on it just as the Arabs and the whole world will swoop down on it.
What happened this week is merely a coming attraction for what can be expected during his entire term in office, however long that might be. Had Netanyahu not wanted so badly to become prime minister, he would not have tried so hard to surround himself with ideological constraints right after the election, to mollify his coalition partners with arrogant talk about the settlements, to raise his opposition to a Palestinian state to the top of the flagpole for their sake and to focus the whole world's attention on this.
But Netanyahu is like that cyclist who is so afraid of the pole planted in the sidewalk he smacks right into it.
And I will risk a prophecy: In the end, Netanyahu will be the first Israeli prime minister to establish de facto some sort of Palestinian state - or else he will fall because of its non-establishment. Separating its fate from his own is something he can no longer do.
The ancients said "the goddess of fate loves those who dare." It would appear that - for good reason - she can't stand most of our prime ministers.
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