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Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu needs to learn a lesson or two from former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir on how to have a political “backbone.”
The London Times report from Jerusalem on March 26, 2010 headline was “Benyamin Netanyahu humiliated after Barack Obama dumped him for dinner.” The specter of future rebukes by a contemptuous Obama seems to have curbed Netanyahu’s taste for standing up for Israel’s interests.
None of Shamir’s toughness seems to have rubbed off on Netanyahu, who began his political career as Deputy Chief of Mission at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, while Shamir was Foreign Minister. Unlike the way Netanyahu has conducted his relationship with President Obama, Shamir stood firm against heavy pressure from President George H. Bush and his Secretary of State James Baker. On one visit to Jerusalem, Baker demanded that Israel make far reaching concessions to the Palestinians. Shamir, while clearly boiling inside, issued this cool response: “Mr. Secretary, you can demand what you choose to demand, but this is our country and we will not agree to do anything that will harm our interests and our future even if it is demanded by our best friend.”
Shamir’s principled defiance against Bush and Baker earned him the respect of the U.S. Congress. Shamir was able to receive $650 million in special assistance and $700 million worth of military hardware from Congress despite President Bush’s objection.
Ironically, Israel’s economic situation is far better today than during Shamir’s term as prime minister. And, while Israel finds itself with few reliable friends today (though there is a growing relationship with India, China and Russia), it had even fewer friends during 1988-1992. America, under George H.W. Bush, was the sole super-power and respected as such – overseeing the demise of the Soviet Union and winning a great victory in the Gulf War, which liberated Kuwait. Obama, on the other hand, is overseeing the breakdown of the U.S. economy, the rise of China, and the loss of prestige worldwide, especially in the Middle East.
According to the people-in-the-know around Netanyahu, it is Ehud Barak, former leader of the Labor Party and current Defense Minister, who has the most influence on the Prime Minister’s decisions. Barak, who defeated Netanyahu in the 1999 elections, has forged an intimate understanding with Netanyahu. Barak, who left the Labor Party and formed his own faction called Independence, is the “leftist” stream in Netanyahu’s cabinet, and in many ways, Netanyahu sees Barak as the person who can provide him “cover “ when dealing with the U.S. and other Western governments.
Netanyahu seeks to be accepted by a wide spectrum of Americans, and is doing his best to rid himself of the supposed stigma of “hardliner” and “right-winger.” In his acceptance of a two-state solution and a Palestinian State in his Bar-Ilan speech (6/11/2009), he articulated: “In my vision of peace, there are two free peoples living side by side in this small land, with good neighborly relations and mutual respect, each with its flag, anthem and government, with neither one threatening its neighbor’s security and existence…” Netanyahu’s speech was a concession to Obama, which contradicted the will of his Likud voters.
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