Cover Story: Why Bibi Netanyahu Is King of Israel

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TIME’s cover story this week, written by TIME managing editor Richard Stengel, profiles Israel’s controversial Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. This past month has seen Netanyahu—referred to almost ubiquitously by his nickname Bibi—cannily consolidate power, brokering a coalition that pairs his Likud party and other right-wing allies with the more centrist Kadima. The deal deflects calls for fresh elections and gives him a virtual lock on Israel’s top job going forward.

As Stengel puts it:

Netanyahu is poised to become the longest-serving Israeli Prime Minister since David Ben-Gurion, the founding father of Israel. He has no national rival. His approval rating, roughly 50%, is at an all-time high. At a moment when incumbents around the world are being shunted aside, he is triumphant.

Netanyahu, as Stengel writes, stands on history’s cusp: “The question is whether he is a prisoner of that history or he can write a new narrative.”  He bears with him the memory of his military service—and the even more painful memory of the death of his elder brother Yoni, a celebrated Israeli commando. He also carries with him the legacy and learning of his father, the late Benzion Netanyahu, a noted, uncompromising Zionist academic.
Like his father, he sees Jewish history as a succession of holocausts. Like his father, he has an almost mystical belief in the abiding power of anti-Semitism, as though it were more biological than cultural.
That baggage hardly makes Netanyahu the most likely figure, then, to calmly address the two great geo-political questions confronting his nation: the threat of a nuclear Iran and the perennial challenge of forging a lasting peace with the Palestinians. Bibi has adopted a hawkish pose on the former that flies, sometimes, even in the face of the intelligence analyses of his own officials. And, under his watch, the peace process has gone moribund — which compelled the Palestinians to break away from talks and take their cause to the floor of the United Nations General Assembly last year. Now, though, with a surer command over the Knesset, Netanyahu doesn’t need to pander to the more inflexible, right-wing parties supporting him. He has

…a governing coalition that will not leak or collapse if he opens negotiations. He will no longer have to look over his shoulder. He will not have to call elections at the drop of a hat. He has not had that before, and it gives him room to maneuver and room to compromise. “Now he is the emperor … he can do anything,” [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas] said last week. “If I were him, I would do it now, now, now.”

The choice, writes Stengel, is Bibi’s.