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(credit: Ellie Foreman-Peck) 

Everybody loves to hate Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. When he appeared at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2012 to warn the international community about Iran's impending nuclear threat with a graphic depiction of a bomb, Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt dismissed it as "confusing". New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman called him "a local party boss". In 2011 former US President Bill Clinton blamed him for the failure of the peace talks with the Palestinians. Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy was famously caught on a live mic telling President Obama "Netanyahu, I can't stand him. He's a liar." Obama replied: "You are sick of him, but I have to deal with him every day."

Since taking office for his second term as a prime minister in March 2009 (he is now into his third), Netanyahu has had to contend with the reputation of being a hardline hawk bent on sabotaging rather than seeking a peace deal with the Palestinians. His rhetoric on Iran has only enhanced the view that he is a warmonger.

Detractors even speculated that Netanyahu was under the intellectual spell of his late father Benzion Netanyahu, former secretary of the revisionist leader Zeev Jabotinsky and noted historian of the Spanish Inquisition. It was said that  Benzion's commitment to the revisionist idea of a Jewish state on both banks of the river Jordan blocked his son's route to a territorial compromise.

Yet his critics fail to grasp the true nature of a leader caught between the push of history in a region in turmoil and the pull of his country's byzantine politics.

Netanyahu is not the ideologue many presume he is. Although he opposed the Oslo Agreement of the early 1990s, he signed off the Hebron Accords in 1997 — relinquishing Israeli authority over one of Judaism's most important holy cities — and the Wye River deal a year later, which put another nail in the Greater Israel coffin. His opposition to the Peres-Rabin peace plan earned him international scorn, which intensified after Prime Minister Rabin was assasinated by a far-Right gunman. Yet, quite aside from the fact that much of his criticism of Oslo later proved justified, Netanyahu has approached relations with the Palestinian Authority pragmatically.

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September 25th, 2013
11:09 PM
An article well written, introducing refreshing objectivity. It is so comforting to know some people are still able to distinguish the wheat from the chaff, truth from fiction and cheap media demagoguery from crude reality Shana Tove U Metuka to you, dear Mr. Ottolenghi

September 18th, 2013
8:09 AM
I can scarcely think of a modern politician that deserves the epithet 'statesman' - one of the few who does though is Benjamin Netanyahu.

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