So Is He or Isn’t He?

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We’ve seen the first murmurs today that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu might decide to scrap his speech to Congress – the demand or request of an increasingly broad chorus of elite opinion in the US and Israel. Early today, Reuters reported that Netanyahu’s advisors were “considering amending the format” of the speech – a vague phrasing which the article suggests may range anywhere from turning the speech into a closed door, untelevised talk to just talking to AIPAC and pretending that was sort of the same thing.

Netanyahu’s office quickly shot down the report.

But Jeff Goldberg says they are considering it.

And Jeff’s about as well sourced on this as anyone.

From what I’ve been able to glean, there’s little question Netanyahu and his inner circle recognize this was a big, big mistake. If they could go back and not do it in the first place they would. But of course they can’t. Mainly because the domestic political damage would be too great. Netanyahu’s brand is strength and resolution – particularly inflexible resolution against critics and enemies, his or Israel’s, two categories he and his admirers tend to conflate. Most of the damage from this fiasco has already been incurred. Not all. The spectacle surrounding the speech itself would be quite a show and one that a far wider swath of the US population would see. But most. Pulling out now wouldn’t undo that damage but it would open up an entirely new front for Netanyahu, significantly demoralizing his supporters in a way that cuts directly at the essence of his rule.

There is no easy way out.

Most reports suggest that Netanyahu and his acolytes would try to thread the needle in some way, moonwalk past Congress and pretend the whole thing never happened. But I don’t think that’s possible. He can’t just speak to AIPAC and hold a kegger at the RNC and pretend that was pretty much the idea all along. The tension and drama have been raised too high. He’s invited. He accepted. He has a time and a date. If he doesn’t go through with it there won’t be any way to see that for anything but what it is: a cave on the biggest stage there is.

For the last few days people who know this issue better than I do have been telling me they think he’ll pull out. But I have not been able to see how that will happen. Frankly I have a hard time imagining him going through with it either. One thing I suspect all would agree on is that the stakes for Netanyahu go up the closer we get to the speech itself. So if he’s going to pull the plug we should know soon enough.

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