BIBI The Turbulent Life and Times of Benjamin Netanyahu

If you really want to Understand Bibi, reviewed by Ian Black in the New York Times, 8 May 2018 (Hurst, RRP £20, 424 pages)

“Benjamin Netanyahu is now close to becoming Israel’s longest-serving prime minister. Haunted by scandal, the Likud leader is a controversial figure at home and abroad. He makes headlines and arouses strong feelings because he deals with big and enormously divisive issues — war and peace in the Middle East, the nuclear ambitions of Iran, the future of the Palestinians and the fate of the Jewish people, not necessarily in that order. He has a strong sense of history and especially of his own indispensable role in making it.”`

“Anshel Pfeffer’s biography is superbly timed — appearing as Israeli justice closes in on a man who has been in power for nearly a decade and is a major player in what he famously calls a “tough neighborhood” for far longer. Bibi, as he is known at home (though the use of his childhood nickname does not automatically imply affection), comes across as a more complex figure than his legendary mastery of the sound bite suggests. Family background and tribal politics are two of the main strands of his story. America, where he spent much of his early life and formative stages of his career, is another significant one.”

“If there is a master key to cracking the Bibi code, this insightful and readable book argues, it is his identity as someone who has always stood outside the mainstream. This distance is something of a family inheritance. Netanyahu’s grandfather and father were members of the right-wing “Revisionist” movement at a time when Zionism was dominated by the left in Eastern Europe, America and Palestine. There is a familiar theme in Israel’s history — most eloquently evoked by the late Israeli writer Amos Elon — that the state’s founding fathers and their sons behaved very differently. In the case of the Netanyahus, the “inability to become part of the establishment,” as Pfeffer puts it, made for unusual continuity between the generations.”…

“Pfeffer rightly focuses on Bibi’s attitude toward the Palestinians. In his first term of office in 1996, he inherited Rabin’s landmark Oslo agreement with the P.L.O., which the Likud opposed, but still grudgingly complied with it. Back in power in 2009 after a period that encompassed the second intifada, Arafat’s death and Ariel Sharon’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, he came to appreciate how Oslo maintained Israel’s security while allowing settlements to expand as the American-led “peace process” went nowhere slowly. Netanyahu was initially seen as committed to a two-state solution while simultaneously demanding that Palestinians recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. But a few years later the most he was prepared to contemplate was a “state-minus.” Rivals further to the right do not even go that far. “The only peace he has been willing to consider,” Pfeffer concludes, “is one where Israel bullies the Palestinians into submission. Until that happens, he will continue building walls.” (more…)

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