Netanyahu’s Etch a Sketch Moment

During the 2012 presidential election, when asked during a CNN interview if Mitt Romney felt forced to tack to the hard right in order to bolster his chances in the Republican Primary, Romney’s senior campaign manager said this:

“I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes,” Fehrnstrom responded. “It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up, and we start all over again.”

This week, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is having his own Etch A Sketch moment.

The problems started when Netanyahu made two distinct remarks just prior to the March 17, 2015 elections.  First, Netanyahu appeared to reject, outright, the two state solution.  A more nuanced reading suggests that Netanyahu finds the two state solution, at least under the present circumstances, ‘unachievable.’  The media pounced on the ‘unachievable’ remark, and even if the remarks are somehow taken out of context, as some claim, the remarks are fully consistent with the reality on the ground: the settlements built over Netanyahu’s tenure better speak for themselves. The two state solution is effectively dead.

Netanyahu’s other remark, that “Arab voters are heading to the polls in droves” further inflamed tensions.  In a tighter than expected election, Netanyahu’s calibrated remark encouraged and catalyzed his base. While the comments helped ensure his reelection, the cost is steep: the remark tears at the fabric of a democratic society and serves to further isolate Israel and Netanyahu on the world stage.

While French President Hollande and Canada’s Prime Minister Harper congratulated Netanyahu, each reiterated their commitment to the two state solution.  The United Nation’s Ban Ki Moon did the same.  The United States, a stalwart ally, took two days before congratulating Netanyahu, and meanwhile vowed to explore alternatives to the two state solution.  Meanwhile, President Obama is wedded to an Israeli Prime Minister that that aligns more closely with hawks in the Republican Party that also, coincidentally, despise the President’s foreign policy objectives.

This week, Netanyahu is walking back his comments and trying to undo the damage.  In an interview with NPR, Netanyahu explained that he really has not retracted his support for a two state solution.  Upon winning the election, Netanyahu said he would be a Prime Minister for all Israeli citizens.

Netanyahu is shaking the Etch A Sketch and hoping that the world soon forgets the divisive lines he traced.  For President Obama, many Americans, Israelis, and, really, anyone interested in securing a stable Middle East, the lines are far more permanent, and a solution far more daunting.

Time to go back to the drawing board.

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