EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the European Council headquarters in Brussels, Belgium December 11, 2017.
(photo credit: REUTERS/ERIC VIDAL)
Conventional wisdom holds that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu enjoys his frequent trips abroad because it gives him the opportunity to get away from the rough and tumble of Israeli politics.
Sure, meeting French President Emmanuel Macron – and hearing lectures about what gestures Israel needs to make to the Palestinians – might not be a cakewalk; and having breakfast with more than 20 EU foreign ministers who in one voice came out against US President Donald Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem might not be pleasurable to the ear. Nevertheless, it sure beats having to deal with the coalition’s Shabbat issues, coalition chairman David Bitan’s legal woes, and the never ending investigations into Case 1000, 2000, and 3000.
Netanyahu’s just completed two-day trip to Paris and Brussels is an exception, because this trip was very much about politics. Netanyahu pushed for this trip for months, wanting to go into the “lion’s den” and tell the Europeans “the way it really is.”
Why? Is it realistic to think that a two-hour meeting with a large group of European foreign ministers – recounting arguments about the Palestinians or the Iranian issue that each of them has certainly heard Netanyahu advance before – is going to get anyone to change their minds, especially when they are sitting in a collective forum, and want to at least present the appearance of a united European front?
But something else is very much a part of Netanyahu’s calculus in making this trip: there is little that Netanyahu’s base likes to see more than him standing up to the Europeans, calling out their hypocrisy, and making Israel’s case in a blunt manner. And this trip provided Netanyahu ample chances to do just that.
While the visit was planned well before Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem, that step – and the European objection to it – gave Netanyahu the opportunity on two different occasions to stand up to the Europeans and unabashedly and unapologetically school them on Israel’s ties to the city.
This is something that Netanyahu really enjoys doing. As he said before leaving Saturday night: “I attach great importance to Europe, I respect Europe, but I am not prepared to accept a double-standard. I hear voices denouncing President Trump’s historic declaration, but I have not heard any condemnation of the rocket fire against Israel that followed, and the terrible incitement against us. I will not accept this hypocrisy, and as usual, even in this important forum, I will represent Israel’s truth without fear and with head held high.”
Netanyahu repeated that theme – articulating Israel’s truth without fear or intimidation – again on Monday, sitting on his plane and waiting to take off from snowy Brussels. While waiting for a green light to take off, Netanyahu posted a video on his Facebook page saying: “Europe is important to us, but it is important to say things – here as well – in the most direct and honest way possible.”
And this is something, the prime minister hinted to the listeners, they know he is always willing to do.
No, Netanyahu did not escape politics by going to Brussels and Paris over the last two days. On the contrary, he immersed himself in it. If Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon engaged in “election economics” on Monday by removing import duties on a wide range of goods, Netanyahu engaged in some “election diplomacy” himself by going into the heart of the “lion’s den” and “standing up” to the Europeans. He was definitely in his element.