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Working With Bibi

By Matthew Yglesias on February 14, 2009 at 1:13 pm

"Working With Bibi"

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Edward Walker, former Assistant Secretary of State & former Ambassador to Israel and to Egypt, has an interesting post up at the Israel Policy Forum blog about working with Bibi Netanyahu:

There are some who assume that a right wing government led by Netanyahu would put an end to the two state solution and terminate negotiations with the Palestinians. That has been one impression that has been created during the recent election campaign. The assumption is also around that as Prime Minister, Netanyahu’s administration would seek a military solution to the Hamas problem. And finally, it was assumed that he would further encroach on the West Bank through thickening existing settlements, legalizing the illegal settlements and building new settlements. It may be that all of these assumptions will come true. But perhaps not.

The Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu who I worked with while I was our Ambassador to Israel, was certainly conservative in his viewpoint, and he was tough when it came to military action. But, at the same time, he was pragmatic when it came to the interests of Israel and to his own political interests and that of his party. This is the Bibi who accepted the Hebron agreement and also signed off on the Wye agreement. He was the first member of Likud who ever agreed to turn over any portion of the West Bank to Palestinian authority, to the horror of many of his supporters. Despite the feelings of some in the US that Bibi reneged on his promises at Wye, the problem was not so much Bibi as it was Arik Sharon who was doing his best to undercut Wye and Bibi. And, of course, Arafat was hardly religious in carrying through with his promises at Wye. While Bibi allowed the thickening existing settlements, he did not open the floodgates for new settlements.

Obviously, if you’re going to believe that the United States and Israel need to find some kind of way to do deals with Hamas then you also need to think the United States can work with a Likud government. And rightwing though Netanyahu may be, he’s also a realist about his own political ambitions and to some extent about Israel’s interests and neither will be advanced by fundamentally jeopardizing Israel’s relationship with the United States. The key, then, is for us to be clear and firm in articulating our interests and our perspective.

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