NY Times, Netanyahu, And The Soft Bigotry Of Low Expectations

Analyzing Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s acceptance of a highly circumscribed Palestinian state and his decision, after months of stonewalling, to temporarily honor some of Israel’s past commitments on settlements, the New York Times’ Ethan Bronner presents Bibi as a newly transformed peacemaker:

After a long career supporting Israeli settlement in occupied land and rejecting Palestinian statehood, Mr. Netanyahu said last June that he accepted two states. Three weeks ago, he imposed a 10-month freeze on building new residential Jewish housing in the West Bank, something no Israeli leader had done before. Settlers are outraged, and Mr. Netanyahu is facing a rebellion from within his party. Together with his removal of many West Bank checkpoints and barriers to Palestinian movement and economic growth, these steps went well beyond what many ever expected of him.

I doubt we’d ever see this sort of fawning write-up of a Palestinian leader who, after announcing his intention to ignore his predecessors’ commitments to police Palestinian incitement and violence, finally agreed to try and control some incitement and violence. Past Israeli leaders had already committed to the creation of a Palestinian state and to a settlement halt. Netanyahu arrived in office and rejected both of those commitments, and is now getting credit from the New York Times for slightly moderating that rejection. Netanyahu now accepts a Palestinian state — though one so severely circumscribed that it’s unlikely that any Palestinian leader could accept it and hope to retain Palestinian popular support. After months of brazenly and gratuitously humiliating his country’s key benefactor on settlements, Netanyahu has ordered a partial, temporary settlement halt — while continuing full-speed ahead in Palestinian areas of Jerusalem and assuring his settler supporters that it will be open season once the moratorium has ended.

Both Palestinian and Israeli leaders have, in the past, had difficulty living up to their various commitments. But until Netanyahu you haven’t had a leader who simply declared himself unbound by those commitments, and then expected to be paid again after eventually agreeing to be sort of bound by some of them. Netanyahu’s shifts have been in a positive direction, and that’s worth recognizing, but the time and energy taken getting there has had negative consequences both for the peace process and for U.S. credibility. Bronner does the Times’s readers a real disservice by soft-pedaling the broader effects of Bibi’s recalcitrance and going with a fuzzy “transformed man” narrative.