It's been a bad month for Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Israeli prime minister has been hammered for being trigger-happy on Iran, he won't see his good friend Barack Obama at the opening of the U.N. General Assembly, and he's being blasted for intervening in American politics.
It's not the first time that the world has united in blaming Bibi for the Middle East's ills. As FP's own Josh Rogin reported, this time last year former President Bill Clinton was holding forth on why we don't have a peace process, and his view boils down to this: There's this guy Netanyahu -- he's a jerk and is unwilling to accept the terms I offered at Camp David as the basis for a settlement with the Palestinians. In a stunning assertion, Clinton said: "[Palestinian leaders] have explicitly said on more than one occasion that if [Netanyahu] put up the deal that was offered to them before -- my deal -- that they would take it."
I really like Bill Clinton. I used to work for the guy. But let's be clear. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas a much better deal than Clinton offered Yasir Arafat. The Palestinians didn't accept it.
I'm aware of all the reasons many rational and right-thinking people want to pin the rap for the current impasse with the Palestinians and the bad U.S.-Israeli relationship on Bibi. And the Israeli prime minister certainly deserves a large share of the blame.
Bibi is no pushover. We dealt with him during the Clinton years and -- to use a Bush 41 phrase -- he was a tough trader. My views on what Israel should or shouldn't do on the Palestinian issue are different than his.
Still, I like Bibi all the same. He's a smart guy in a tough spot, and though he unceasingly seems to make his own situation worse, he doesn't have many easy choices. These days, no Israeli leader does.
Then there's the inconvenient fact that Netanyahu is (once again) the duly elected prime minister of Israel. Given Israel's peculiar parliamentary system, there's a reason why only he was in a position to put together a workable coalition. This fact generates a certain legitimacy of its own, which American leaders are obliged to respect.
Still, is Clinton right? Is Bibi the key reason we aren't on the verge of a conflict-ending accord between Israel and the Palestinians?
There's no denying that Netanyahu is more intransigent on some key questions than other Israeli politicians. Bibi is expanding settlements in the West Bank, won't share Jerusalem, and is adamantly against any compromise on the "right of return" for Palestinian refugees. If Ehud Barak, Shaul Mofaz, or Ehud Olmert were in charge and had a supportive coalition, the situation would clearly improve.