Gideon Levy
Haaretz (Opinion)
July 9, 2009 - 12:00am

Benjamin Netanyahu has absorbed 100 smears, one for each day on the job. Who has not excoriated the "squeezable" - now the most fashionable word in town - prime minister? Granted, this is not a bottle of catsup we are talking about, but rather a sitting prime minister. Nonetheless, there are advantages in this particular trait of Netanyahu's, even if it is, of course, limited consolation.

It would have been preferable for Israel to have a courageous and determined prime minister who grasped the importance of the hour and the fateful opportunities on the country's doorstep, a leader whose worldview moved him to take grand, confident steps over the abyss, one who would lead rather than be led. But since there is no such animal, a squeezable prime minister is the next best thing.

Netanyahu's malleability is actually good news. We have had plenty of strong, determined statesmen. Ariel Sharon dragged the entire country into the first Lebanon War and dedicated most of his career to building settlements. Sharon did this with the determination of a strong leader. No one could have stood in the way of the "bulldozer" from Sycamore Ranch. What was the end result? Large-scale disasters and generations of tears. Sharon did summon the same determination in implementing the disengagement plan, but this does not exonerate him for his past misdeeds.

His successor, Ehud Olmert, was also perceived as invulnerable to pressure. He high-handedly led Israel into two fruitless, criminal wars. And what was the end result? An unnecessary disaster.

Golda Meir was nonsqueezable as well. Steadfastly refusing to be squeezed, she rejected serious offers for a historic interim agreement with Egypt and dragged Israel into the Yom Kippur War, but her spirit was not broken. She was "the only man" in her government. Woe unto that "man" and woe unto us. Look at what she did.

Her predecessor was the last squeezable prime minister we have had here: Levi Eshkol, who stuttered before going to war. And now, he arouses fierce longing - longing for hesitation, even fear, a vital, human trait for a prime minister, particularly before he needs to make a critical decision, like going to war. Menachem Begin did not want to withdraw from a single inch of land and Yitzhak Rabin refused to talk to the PLO, but under pressure, they both changed their stance and went down in history.

If Netanyahu persists in his malleability, perhaps there is some hope on the horizon. In 100 days, it has already brought us a prime minister who champions the solution once advocated by the radical left - two states for two peoples. He has yet to do anything to advance the magic formula he has suddenly discovered, with horrifying belatedness, but perhaps just a little more pressure on the squeezable premier is what is needed for something to move around here.

Something will move here only if Netanyahu continues his impersonation of a weather vane, changing direction with every breeze. If Washington continues its pressure on him, perhaps there will be a real settlement freeze and then the start of evacuations. This would conflict with his worldview, if he indeed has one, but it would be an encouraging bit of news, and to hell with the slanderous accusations of being squeezable.

A frightened, scared Netanyahu could also prevent an unnecessary Israeli adventure in Iran. May God protect us from a "strong" prime minister, one who shows contempt for the entire world and the dangers inherent in such an operation and orders our wonderful pilots to set out on their way. It should be remembered, to his credit, that during his first term of office, Netanyahu avoided launching any wars or operations - not even a miniature Operation Defensive Shield.

The malleable Netanyahu could also secure the release of Gilad Shalit. Olmert's disgraceful obduracy could now be replaced by Netanyahu's "weakness." Only a prime minister endowed with this supposedly negative trait could bring about the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, as is required, in exchange for Shalit a moment before it is too late. If we squeeze and Netanyahu is squeezed, Shalit will probably come home.

The prime minister will be judged by his results, not by his character or the route he takes to get there. Some who criticized Netanyahu's latest zigzag - the U-turn he did by canceling value-added tax on fruits and vegetables - admit that his decision may have been sound. Yet the most important thing, in their eyes, is that we not have a prime minister who surrenders, who yields, who folds with such ease. This logic is twisted.

Instead, we ought to sing the praises of a prime minister who changes his mind, adjusts his views to prevailing circumstances and yields on issues to his and our benefit. Only such a Netanyahu can do well by us. Heaven forbid if he were to entrench himself in his positions. We would be better off having a doormat for prime minister than a hero. We have had more than enough of the latter.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017