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Remnick Calls for Obama Plan

Influential commenter concludes Bibi won’t make peace on his own

Marc Tracy
March 14, 2011
Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday.(Ronen Zvulun/AFP/Getty Images)
Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday.(Ronen Zvulun/AFP/Getty Images)

“Psychobiography in politics is ordinarily a mug’s game,” New Yorker editor David Remnick begins his signed editorial on Benjamin Netanyahu this week, and yet few American observers are more qualified in the prime minister’s case: Remnick’s 1998 profile (unfortunately subscription-only), is insightful and superbly written, and is particularly acute on the anxiety of influence that Benzion Netanyahu exerts over his son. (Jason Epstein wrote a lovely recollection of Benzion, who turns 101 this month—he is not already 101, as Remnick reports*—in Tablet Magazine.) I went over much of this last week, but the basic question remains: Will Netanyahu ever fundamentally break from Benzion’s hardline stance? Judging from his own reporting and from his observation of Israeli politics, here is Remnick’s conclusion: “In books, speeches, and action, Benjamin Netanyahu has proved himself his father’s son.” Indeed, one has even more difficulty imagining Netanyahu breaking from his history and making genuine concessions in the West Bank, as he has reportedly been mulling, in the wake of the Fogel murders (which I would guess occurred after Remnick’s article went to print).

Remnick proposes that the Obama administration establish its own peace plan and submit it to both sides—an alternative often tossed about over the past year or two, during which the peace process has vacillated between no talks between the two sides (like right now) and proximity talks (in which the two sides talk to each other through the United States), punctuated by hopeful, brief, and terminal spurts of direct talks.

Meanwhile, there are, to my reading, two pieces of “news.” First, Remnick suggests that President Obama visit Israel (“it was a mistake not to follow his historic speech in Cairo, in 2009, with a trip to Jerusalem,” he correctly notes), which strongly indicates that if Obama decides that it is worth his while to continue to pursue the peace process before the 2012 elections—a big if, to be sure—then we will see the president in the Holy Land in the next year or so.

Second, there is this paragraph, whose shortness seems to betray a nugget of knowledge withheld:

Obama’s views are not mysterious. His political home is Hyde Park, on the South Side of Chicago, where he came to know liberal Zionists and Palestinian academics, and to understand both the necessity of a Jewish state after the Second World War and the tragedy and the depths of Palestinian suffering.

Among many other things, Remnick is an Obama biographer. I get the sense that the above is Remnick’s confession that some of what the right fears about Obama regarding Israel actually is true, but that he’s almost afraid to say it (“he came to know liberal Zionists and Palestinian academics”). Or am I reading too much into it? Let me know your thoughts.

* Yup, I found a (utterly trivial) factual error in The New Yorker: Benzion Netanyahu is not 101 today, and will not be 101 on the issue’s March 21st cover date. Rather, according to every source I could find, his birthdate is March 25, 1910. It feels great, thanks for asking.

A Man, A Plan [The New Yorker]
Related: The Outsider [The New Yorker]
Personal History [Tablet Magazine]
Earlier: What’s Bibi Up To?
Five Jews Murdered in West Bank

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.