Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Image Credit: Reuters

And so Time magazine appeared last week wanting its readers to believe that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu comes from royal stock. It crowned him ‘King Bibi’ and featured him on its cover, much to the disappointment of many.

This month has been momentous for the egotistical Netanyahu. He has unexpectedly managed to expand his coalition government to include Kadima, the largest opposition party in the Knesset, now led by a former general, Shaul Mofaz, and until recently by Tzipi Livni, the mercurial Israeli opposition leader.

This step, taken two days after the death of his ageing father, will virtually guarantee 94 votes for the government in the 120-member Knesset, virtually assuring the prime minister a smooth ride in the days ahead.

If so, the Time cover story, authored by its managing editor Rick Stengel underlined that Netanyahu would be “the longest serving Israeli prime minister since David Ben Gurion”, who has been described in another critical article as “the ruthless author of the ethnic cleansing in 1948” when Israel was established in Palestine in accordance with the UN partition scheme.

But this is only half the story. Netanyahu, whose popularity has lately been sinking — his approval rating is said to be 50 per cent — has reportedly been fearful that should he decide to call a general election next year, as originally planned, his chances of a clean sweep may depend on whether President Barack Obama is re-elected in November.

Writing in Mondoweiss, a website that covers American foreign policy in the Middle East from a progressive Jewish perspective, Craig Higgins stresses: “The Netanyahu government’s intransigence on the Palestinian issue and its war-mongering pillow fight with Tehran have made it such that almost nobody thinks Israel is cool any more, and its place in opinion polls is down there with the Iranians, Pakistan, and the like.”

He continued: “As long as this blowhard is allowed to keep his hand at the tiller, Israel will continue to flounder, crown or no crown.”

Real anxiety

According to the Time article, “The real anxiety for Israel is that [UN] recognition of Palestine would give them access to the International Criminal Court, opening Israel up to a potentially vast number of claims.”

Yet, it pointed out, that illegal Israeli “settlement [colony]construction has resumed with a vengeance. Settlements [colonies] and the buffer zones and roads supporting them now constitute 40 per cent of the West Bank”.

At another point, the Time editor observed: “The longer Bibi and I talk about the Palestinians, the more I get the sense he just does not believe that they want peace or that they are capable of democracy if they had it.”

Coincidentally, the rival Palestinian factions — Fatah and Hamas signed an agreement in Cairo recently that paves the way for elections and a new unity government, a step that has been overdue for several months but still much needed if a settlement is to be reached with the Israelis.

The longer Israel takes to reveal its thinking about a settlement, the more unlikely is the likelihood of a two-state peace solution.

In a sharply critical statement issued in Brussels this month, the European foreign affairs council warned that the acceleration of Israeli colony-building, evictions and house demolitions in occupied east Jerusalem and violence by Israeli colonists “threatens to make a two-state solution impossible”.

It is time that the Obama administration takes a similar stand. Arguing that it was hard not to conclude that Israel was deliberately seeking to break up the West Bank into separate “cantons”, a senior western diplomat told Reuters in occupied Jerusalem. “Settlements [colonies] are unbelievably corrosive. They destroy any faith on the Palestinian side that they are serious and totally corrode international settlement.”

One wonders why similar observations are non-existent in Time’s coverage.

George S. Hishmeh is a  Washington-based columnist.  He can be contacted at
ghishmeh@gulfnews.com