Benjamin Netanyahu, Likud Party leader chosen Friday to form the next Israeli government, is proud of a conversation he had with Barack Obama last summer in Jerusalem when Obama was still running for President.
“You and I have a lot in common,” Mr. Obama said, according to Mr. Netanyahu’s account. “I started on the left and moved to the center. You started on the right and moved to the center. We are both pragmatists who like to get things done.”
Whether Netanyahu's account is accurate remains a question but the substance of it is telling. If Netanyahu believes, and is proud of, such a conversation, it suggests that he sees himself as a pragmatist. The question is how he defines pragmatic.
He has said he wants to form a centrist governing coalition and has even called on Kadima, the centrist party of Tzipi Livni, his leading opponent in the recent election, and the center-left Labor Party lead by Ehud Barak, the country's Defense Minister, to join him in a unity government. Ms. Livni has said she prefers to go into the opposition but has agreed to meet wtih Netanyahu on Sunday for discussions. Barak has already said he will head into the opposition.
But in Israel it is believed that Netanyahu's government is likely to consist of parties of the right that oppose a Palestinian state and want to continue expansion of settlements in the West Bank. If so, pragmatist is not what I would call him.
“I don’t think he has much compunction in sacrificing an ideological position as long as it keeps him in power,” said Yaron Ezrahi, a liberal political scientist at Hebrew University. “We either need a prime minister who is ideologically committed to a two-state solution and has the power to move the country in that direction, or a very flexible opportunist who appears committed to the right but acts according to what is necessary,” according to a story in the New York Times today (link above).
Which is Netanyahu? We shall see.