All the elements were there.
Warnings from Israel’s leadership that had gone unheeded.
Forces massing against Israel from multiple sides.
A seemingly profound imbalance between Israel’s capabilities and those arrayed against her.
And at its heart, a conflict with the Palestinians.
However, in six days it was all over, with the Israelis triumphant.
But this is not the story of the Six Day War in 1967; it is the story of Bibi Netanyahu and his six day political battle against an emerging, untenable global narrative that excuses Palestinian bad behavior at the expense of Israeli security and legitimacy.
In waging his political counter-attack, the Israeli Prime Minister took on no less a power than the President of the United States, and won convincingly.
The conclusion was nothing short of extraordinary.
The seeds for this new “six day war” were planted in actions by the Palestinian Authority (PA).
While the West was transfixed with the “Arab Spring,” PA President Abbas was busy sealing a deal with the terrorist leadership of Hamas, brokered by the Egyptians, which would provide for a unified Palestinian government in the run up to an anticipated request for Palestinian statehood at the UN in September.
The momentum of this Palestinian course appeared self evident, with sympathy from the UN and notable public hand-wringing by major European governments which saw no way out of recognizing a new Palestinian state if such a resolution were put to the UN, regardless of the circumstances.
The sight of “peaceful” Palestinian refugees rushing Israeli borders on three sides in protest on Israel’s Independence Day seemed only to confirm the futility of opposing the new Palestinian course.
At the time, Prime Minister Netanyahu had warned plainly that the Palestinians could make peace with Israel or make peace with Hamas, but it could not do both.
This Israeli position was drowned out in chorus of pro-Palestinian statements.
Now, pivot to Washington.
With Abbas’ “unity” government, statehood plans and the Palestinian protests coming only days before an official visit to the US by Netanyahu, the Obama White House hastily planned to pre-empt the Prime Minister’s presentation of the Israeli view to an American audience by scheduling a major address by President Obama on the Arab Spring.
This was scheduled for May 19th, the day before Netanyahu landed.
It was impolitic and politically clumsy to say the least.
By way of comparison, would President Obama have made a major address on US support for Taiwan before the visit of the Chinese President?
Still, whatever its intended purpose, and despite a peppering of standard assurances to Israel’s security in the address, the President’s comments on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict left an unmistakable impression that the US was walking back assurances and support provided to Israel in the past.
It is clear now that in making the speech, the White House clearly underestimated the public impact of POTUS’ comments, where even a “reinterpretation” of existing understandings is fraught with danger.
By the time Netanyahu arrived in Washington, the White House was in full back-pedal mode over the President’s comments, specifically that the pre-1967 war borders should be the basis for a Palestinian state.
The next day, President Obama held a two hour, private meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister, in part to do damage control from the previous day.
But to the surprise of everyone, it did not end there.
Netanyahu took the extraordinary step of using a photo-op in the Oval Office to publicly provide Israel’s policy logic regarding creation of a Palestinian state; to the obvious fury of POTUS, who glared at Netanyahu throughout the mini-Middle East tutorial.
It was a tipping point.
With Democrats joining Republicans in criticizing the White House for the May 19th speech, the President was in full retreat when he spoke the American Israeli Political Action Committee (AIPAC) annual meeting on May 22nd, abandoning his new formulation for Israel’s post-Palestinian state borders and struggling to demonstrate his commitment to Israel’s security.
As if to symbolize the policy defeat, POTUS then promptly bordered Air Force One for Europe and all but left Washington to Netanyahu.
On the 24th, Netanyahu took center stage, giving a stirring speech to a joint session of Congress.
The speech incorporated not only a defensible and achievable roadmap to peace, spelling out the realities and uncomfortable truths of the situation on the ground and painful steps Israel will have to take for peace, but did so in the context of the common values shared by Israel and the United States, not only in principle but in policy.
Instead of the relativist stand that the President took, urging parallel action by both Israelis and Palestinians unlinked from circumstance, Netanyahu distilled a moral clarity engendered in a proposed serial approach to the Palestinians which provided reciprocal progress based concrete Palestinian moves to recognize Israel and its security.
In so doing, Netanyahu silently exposed the policy incoherence of Obama’s speech that failed to reconcile how Israel can immediately initiate negotiations for a legitimate and durable peace with a Palestinian unity government staffed with people opposed to Israel’s very right to exist.
On May 18th, Palestinian policy initiatives seemed poised to reframe the debate about the correct path to statehood and peace at very real risk to Israel. By May 24th, six days later, Netanyahu had demolished those arguments with courage, clarity, logic and common sense in a demonstration of sound and sturdy leadership that served to unite the American Congress, if not the Obama administration.
That effort by Netanyahu will hopefully fortify the US as a pro-active ally when Palestinian maneuverings begin in earnest this summer.