Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is grabbing positive headlines these days: first with reports that he wants to go back to negotiations with the Palestinians, and second with reports that he has expressed support for the Arab Peace Initiative (API). Or more accurately, he told EU Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini that he wants negotiations with the Palestinians over settlement blocs, and he told the press that he likes the "general idea" of better relations between Israel in the Arab world. Or, in essence, twice recently Netanyahu called the world stupid.
How stupid? Netanyahu's tactics are so shameless that they bring to mind a bit performed by Richard Pryor in his 1982 performance, "Live on the Sunset Strip." Pryor recounts how his wife caught him with another woman. He tells her: "I don't care what you think you saw... Are you gonna believe me or your lying eyes?" Because like Pryor caught in the act by his wife, the facts speak for themselves -- and Netanyahu speaks for himself, quite clearly. It's not just his unvarnished record, going back more than 15 years, of promoting policies that are antithetical to a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (which, one should not forget, is a prerequisite for an agreement under the Arab Peace Initiative). Back in 2010 -- not long after the infamous Bar-Ilan speech in which Netanyahu offered tepid endorsement of the two-state solution -- Netanyahu was recorded on video bragging about how during his first term as Prime Minister he effectively killed the Oslo process. Six years of pro-settlement, anti-peace policies later -- and just months ago -- Netanyahu campaigned for his fourth term as Prime Minister proclaiming openly pro-Greater Israel, anti-two-state positions. And this week he finalized the most right-wing, pro-settlement, anti-peace government in history, composed of Cabinet members who proudly and loudly oppose the two-state solution. Netanyahu now seems to think that the world is so stupid that simply mouthing the words "negotiations" and "Arab Peace Initiative" is enough for all of this to be set aside. Pay no attention to how he has reframed the entire notion of Israeli-Palestinian talks to make a self-serving mockery of the term "negotiations" and turn talks into a shallow mechanism to legitimize settlements. Pay no attention to how he's twisted the entire concept of the API beyond recognition. Pay no attention to how his actual policies, past and present, signal zero interest in a two-state solution that any Palestinian or leader in the Arab world would accept. Pay no attention to how his policies continue to violate international law and international consensus regarding a two-state solution.
Make no mistake: Netanyahu really does think the world is stupid. He isn't even bothering to feign interest in talks to achieve a two-state outcome; he's offering to negotiate only over settlement "blocs." Such negotiations would be based not on international law, nor on previous agreements that defined the future of settlements as a permanent status issue. They would be premised on the notion that it is not settlements that are the problem, but rather Palestinian and international refusal to legitimize Israel's de facto annexation of huge swaths of the West Bank and to accept more settlement activity across these areas. Likewise, Netanyahu isn't even pretending he is interested in the API as it actually exists. Rather, he wants to cannibalize it for parts: discarding what it asks from Israel in terms of making peace with the Palestinians, embracing what it offers in terms of normalization with the Arab world, and re-framing that normalization in terms of his own wishful thinking - which imagines a region in which shared threats and common interests between Israel and Arab nations make the Palestinians irrelevant.
Having given lip service to negotiations and the API, Netanyahu thinks the world is so stupid that it will be convinced to cease criticizing and pressuring him over problematic Israeli policies. He no doubt looks forward, too, to marshaling a chorus of voices to join him in demonizing the Palestinians for their refusal to fall into his "negotiations" trap, and pressuring Arab states to normalize relations with Israel regardless of the situation with the Palestinians. And he doubtless expects the world to line up with him - and with settler apologists like Elliot Abrams and Dennis Ross - to support Israeli construction inside the blocs, formally eradicating the 1967 lines as the basis for any future borders. In short, Netanyahu today is telling the world: "I don't care what you think you've seen and heard from me over the past two decades...Are you gonna believe me or your lying eyes?"