Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011

Benjamin Netanyahu

It may not have been a great year for Israel, but 2011 was a great year for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. As the Arab Spring got rid of Israel's key Arab ally, President Hosni Mubarak, and relations with another key ally, Turkey, continued to deteriorate, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas began threatening to take his case for recognition of Palestinian statehood to the United Nations. Some key Netanyahu allies, and the Obama Administration, began urging him to open up and make new concessions to restart talks with the Palestinians, in order to stop the "Diplomatic Tsunami" that was heading Israel's way. But the hawkish prime minister preferred to hang tough, making an end run around Obama and earning rapturous applause for a hard-line speech to a joint sitting of both houses of Congress. He declined to offer new concessions, successfully relying on U.S. domestic pressure on Obama to ensure that Washington would kill off the Palestinians' U.N. bid — and also to ensure that Washington took a tougher line with Iran. Where needed, he demonstrated flexibility — in agreeing to Hamas' demand for the release of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the freedom of captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, and in appointing a commission to revise economic policy in the face of a wave of "occupy"-style demonstrations that drew hundreds of thousands of Israelis onto the streets to protest the cost of living. But on the major national security issues, Netanyahu took a hard line, and by year's end was claiming vindication.