Netanyahu, ‘King of Israel,’ Exits a Stage He Dominated

When Secretary of State John Kerry tried to revive peace talks in 2013, he later recalled, Mr. Netanyahu repeatedly told him, “I can’t die on a small cross,” encouraging Mr. Kerry to attempt a comprehensive, final agreement. To jump-start talks, Mr. Netanyahu agreed to release Palestinian prisoners, but he also approved the construction of thousands of new homes in the West Bank, “a profound humiliation to Abbas,” who began to abandon hope in the talks, Mr. Kerry wrote. And when Israel dragged its feet on releasing the last of the prisoners, the Palestinians ran out of patience and talks broke down for good. Mr. Kerry concluded that Mr. Netanyahu was “a willing victim of his politics at home,” more interested in breaking Ben-Gurion’s record for duration in office than in “risking it all, as Rabin had and as Peres had, trying to be the one who finally made peace.” Harsher critics saw a deliberate strategy “to destroy Oslo by treating it not as a partnership with the P.L.O., but as a very hard-bargaining contract, in which he didn’t really want the other side to fulfill the terms,” in the words of Ian Lustick, a University of Pennsylvania political scientist. If he didn’t provoke the Palestinians to quit talks, Mr. Lustick argued, his demands would starve them of the political support they needed to retain legitimacy. A more forgiving view is that Mr. Netanyahu saw no chance of success. “For him to make the ‘great leap forward’ and risk his own political position, he would require a level of confidence that his counterpart,” Mr. Abbas, “would be willing and capable of doing the same,” Michael Herzog, an Israeli negotiator, wrote. “That confidence is not there.” Countering Iran There was a time when Mr. Netanyahu was so popular in the United States that some said he could be elected president. A 2015 poll found Republicans admired him as much as Ronald Reagan and more than the pope. He put that popularity to the test in his crusade to block the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Styling himself a latter-day Churchill, Mr. Netanyahu had been sounding the alarm about Iran’s nuclear program for 20 years. He kept the world guessing about whether Israel would mount a pre-emptive strike, as it had done in Iraq and Syria.

Netanyahu, ‘King of Israel,’ Exits a Stage He Dominated

When Secretary of State John Kerry tried to revive peace talks in 2013, he later recalled, Mr. Netanyahu repeatedly told him, “I can’t die on a small cross,” encouraging Mr. Kerry to attempt a comprehensive, final agreement.

To jump-start talks, Mr. Netanyahu agreed to release Palestinian prisoners, but he also approved the construction of thousands of new homes in the West Bank, “a profound humiliation to Abbas,” who began to abandon hope in the talks, Mr. Kerry wrote. And when Israel dragged its feet on releasing the last of the prisoners, the Palestinians ran out of patience and talks broke down for good.

Mr. Kerry concluded that Mr. Netanyahu was “a willing victim of his politics at home,” more interested in breaking Ben-Gurion’s record for duration in office than in “risking it all, as Rabin had and as Peres had, trying to be the one who finally made peace.”

Harsher critics saw a deliberate strategy “to destroy Oslo by treating it not as a partnership with the P.L.O., but as a very hard-bargaining contract, in which he didn’t really want the other side to fulfill the terms,” in the words of Ian Lustick, a University of Pennsylvania political scientist. If he didn’t provoke the Palestinians to quit talks, Mr. Lustick argued, his demands would starve them of the political support they needed to retain legitimacy.

A more forgiving view is that Mr. Netanyahu saw no chance of success. “For him to make the ‘great leap forward’ and risk his own political position, he would require a level of confidence that his counterpart,” Mr. Abbas, “would be willing and capable of doing the same,” Michael Herzog, an Israeli negotiator, wrote. “That confidence is not there.”

Countering Iran

There was a time when Mr. Netanyahu was so popular in the United States that some said he could be elected president. A 2015 poll found Republicans admired him as much as Ronald Reagan and more than the pope.

He put that popularity to the test in his crusade to block the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Styling himself a latter-day Churchill, Mr. Netanyahu had been sounding the alarm about Iran’s nuclear program for 20 years. He kept the world guessing about whether Israel would mount a pre-emptive strike, as it had done in Iraq and Syria.