On May 31, 1996, Benjamin Netanyahu was elected Prime Minister of Israel, the first to be chosen by direct vote. On that same day most of the world's governments began a political war to destroy him. Mr. Netanyahu is still in place. So is the international effort to bring him and his conservative Government down and return the defeated Labor party to power.
It is impossible to understand the day-by-day negotiation stories or the incessant attacks and denunciation of Israel at the U.N., or the Clinton Administration's taut and sometimes insulting attitude toward the Israeli Government without grasping the reality and magnitude of the international campaign against Mr. Netanyahu, and its objectives. The first goal is to achieve not merely getting rid of Mr. Netanyahu but also the policy for which Israelis chose him. The policy is peace with Palestine and giving land for it -- but in return getting borders that would give Israel some protection against another war by Arab states, or war by terrorism.
Labor would bring back a policy that Yasir Arafat has accepted. It would meet virtually all Palestinian ambitions for full possession of the West Bank, including the hills and ravines that since Israel's victory in 1967 have given it some barriers against attack. Mr. Netanyahu's Israeli opponents are willing to take the risk, for the advantages of ''peace now.'' That would bring Israel worldwide cheek-pinching. They campaign against him at home, which is their right, and around the world, which is disgusting.
Muslim motives are unconcealed. Palestinian poets still sing of Israel's end. Mr. Netanyahu is a hindrance to that goal. For other Muslim peoples, hatred of Israel is religious duty. Christians criticize Christians. Jews tear each other apart. But far from Israel, Muslims scream jihad; the world nods ever so understandingly. Among non-Muslim nations: India trots docilely behind Mr. Arafat to mute Muslim support of Pakistan. China, Japan and the Europeans, particularly the French and Russians, see Palestinians as their way to expanding Mideast influence -- also known as oil-development contracts.
President Chirac of France is no cute soccer fan when he conspires with Egypt to warn of a European boycott of Israeli agriculture. At the U.N., Israel has no chance whatsoever against the Arabs -- proved during Labor's rule as well as Mr. Netanyahu's. The whole place is now run by blocs. Europe's democracies often lead other bloc-heads in anti-Israeli enthusiasm.
Israel has no hope of getting one of the 10 rotating Security Council seats. It is permitted to show up to hear itself denounced by states like the Sudan, which allows slavery and the murder of Christians.
The U.S. is Israel's best friend. But as long as the Administration uses threats of withdrawal of support, pressures Israel and favors the Palestinians, it will also be Israel's best blackmailer. President Clinton's Mideast policy advisers are mostly Jews. They were entranced by former Labor Prime Minister Shimon Peres. They glowed at his talk of building rose gardens with Arabs at once, even if Arabs were not keen. These Clinton aides invested their passions and careers in Labor. Oh, the downfall of Netanyahu -- how sweet the thought. The Clinton Administration has broken its official promise that Israel alone would decide its borders and withdrawals. It warns that the U.S. will blame Israel if talks collapse.
With that backing, Yasir Arafat does not give an inch, nor fulfill his annual promise to disband the terrorism apparatus; evermore he reaches out to Hamas. And he has never plugged the sewer of Palestinian propaganda about the curse of Jews to the world. Under U.S. pressure, Mr. Netanyahu is expected to make land concessions faster than he wanted. But he says he will not surrender the territory until Mr. Arafat's actions begin to match his yo-yo promises -- one piece of land for one unfulfilled promise, another for another.
The Netanyahu peace policy would be tricky and risk-taking. Israel is for gamblers. Gamblers, not fools. So -- some Israelis build their nation's strength with their computer genius. Some count on the Torah and Author, some on political democracy. Some become career paratroop officers. There are no guarantees, but as a combination it is difficult to think of a better. (The New York Times July 16)