Today's New York Times story on the renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks underway in Washington asks the $64 thousand dollar question: what is in Bibi's head? We don't really know the answer - which means predicting what's likely to happen at the State Department this week and in talks later this month is even harder than usual.
In recent months Netanyahu has sounded more and more like a committed peacemaker.
“In some fashion, that is Mr. Netanyahu’s own claim — that only someone like himself, with hawkish credentials, can and will produce lasting peace because only such a leader can bring his people with him,” the Times' Ethan Bronner writes.
I've talked to some peace process optimists who say all the evidence suggests Netanyahu is genuine – that he really does see a window of opportunity, and believes he's the man to lead Israel through it.
And I've talked to pessimists who say this is just one more clever Bibi ploy based on his understanding that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is weak and timid, and unlikely to meet minimal conditions for real progress in the talks. Why not talk the talk of the peacemaker, knowing Abbas is unlikely to budge, and let the Palestinian leader take the hit for being the guy who dashes the Obama administration's hopes?
The intriguing thing is, nobody – other than Netanyahu himself and maybe his closest advisers – really knows.
If it's the former – that he really does want a reasonable deal – might not the potent combination of a smart, committed U.S. president and a shrewd Israeli leader who is defying the conventional wisdom about his commitment to a two-state solution push Abbas to actually size an opportunity instead of missing yet another?
Or is the slick, slippery Netanyahu outfoxing a president who's still a neophyte in foreign policy, and who seems to have a special naivete when it comes to the Middle East?
I don't have a clue which possibility is closest to reality in Bibi-world. Some analysts grimly predict that the results of this week's talks are perfectly predictable; I'd suggest the things we don't know about Netanyahu's real views make these talks anything but predictable.
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