Davos

01.23.14

Netanyahu: Israel’s What’s Right With the Middle East

Speaking at Davos, the Israeli Prime Minister tried to sell his country as “what’s right with the Middle East.”

Bibi Netanyahu talked to the World Economic Forum this afternoon like a pitchman on a road show. The prime minister of Israel was selling, selling, selling his country not just as “the start-up nation” but “the innovation nation.” Even its creation was an innovation, he said.

And, oh, by the way, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who spoke earlier in the day, simply lied about Iran’s intentions in Syria and its effort to build nukes. Rouhani’s rhetoric was a “change of words with unchanging deeds,” said Netanyahu, and what’s more, many of the Arab governments in the region understand that.

This notion that Israel and Saudi Arabia, particularly, are natural allies against Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood is promoted publicly by Israel, and acknowledged privately by some Arab officials.

But where the Arabs draw the line against Netanyahu is in the Palestinian territories. They have adamantly opposed the expansion of Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the Occupied West Bank, which make an equitable settlement ever more difficult. So, on the Palestinian question, the prime minister took a different tack.

This notion that Israel and Saudi Arabia, particularly, are natural allies against Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood is promoted publicly by Israel, and acknowledged privately by some Arab officials.

Netanyahu said flatly and unequivocally that he was “ready for peace.” But that needed “mutual recognition” between Israel and the hypothetical Palestinian state, and it needed “very strong security arrangements on the ground” (which general translates into keeping Israeli troops there, too, in strategic locations broadly construed and widely positioned).

So Netanyahu wasn’t so much pessimistic as perfunctorily optimistic about the possibility of reaching such a deal. Can a two-state solution be saved? “I think we can get there,” he said, “it’s like riding a bicycle, you have to keep going.”  And then again there’s the question of whether the Palestinians and the Americans trying to broker a deal will play along with Israel’s picture of peace. “You need three to tango,” said Netanyahu.

“Israel’s not what’s wrong with the Middle East,” Netanyahu said, back in his pitchman mode. “Israel is what’s right with the Middle East.”