Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu enters a security cabinet meeting, August 2017.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
To some Palestinians, the prospect of Benjamin Netanyahu going to jail for graft can be likened to the busting of Al Capone, the notorious American gangster of the prohibition era, for tax evasion.
On Saturday, al-Quds, the most popular Palestinian newspaper, ran a caricature suggesting that Netanyahu was being investigated for the wrong crime. Surrounded by files labeled – among other things as “war crimes,” “forced removals” and “terrorism” – a morose-looking Netanyahu held up a piece of paper that said “bribes.”
Still, the majority of Palestinians would relish seeing Netanyahu convicted, regardless of the charge, according to Mkhaimar Abu Sada, a political scientist at Al Azhar University in Gaza. “The majority of Palestinians would love to see Netanyahu behind bars as part of revenge for what he has done to the Palestinians, whether in terms of settlement expansion in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, his encirclement of east Jerusalem or his aggressive war against Gaza in the summer of 2014. It doesn’t matter how he ends up in jail. To think he is behind bars is something that would be enjoyed by the majority of Palestinians.”
But Abu Sada and most people interviewed on Salah al-Din Street, east Jerusalem’s main thoroughfare, were not optimistic that whoever would succeed Netanyahu if he is forced out would be an improvement as far as Palestinians are concerned.
“Once Netanyahu is out, Israel will go in one of two ways,” Abu Sada says. “Either someone from Likud will be prime minister or there will be early elections. The trend is that the Right will receive the most votes and continue to keep political power in their own hands. What happens is not up to our hopes or to our imagination. Public opinion polls in Israel show that Likud, Yisrael Beytenu and Jewish Home will continue to have solid support. So even if Likud loses some voters they will go to other right-wing parties.”
“Unfortunately, the Left and center-left in Israel are weak and the status quo is convenient for the Israelis: no intifada, no major violence and the continuation of settlement expansion,” he added. “It seems to me that things are under control, things are not that bad for Israel and that’s why the right-wing believes the status quo is comfortable for it and for Israeli voters.”
In the view of Mahmoud Salaymah, who works in the advertising department of al-Quds, Netanyahu’s departure from the scene would not make much difference. “None of the prime ministers give anything to the Palestinians, whether it’s Netanyahu or Olmert, Right or Left. It’s the same policy, the same occupation. Just the personality changes.”
“Many of the people in Israel want peace, but the government doesn’t,” he said. “The people have to choose a moderate government, not a government of the settlers.”
A salesman who asked not to be identified said: “The presence or absence of Netanyahu won’t change anything in Israeli policy. The word peace doesn’t exist in the Israeli state. The Zionist movement’s goal is to occupy and rule over others. It’s not a personal issue with Netanyahu. Our problem is not with Netanyahu, it is with the Zionist movement, which wants to control the world.”
But a store owner who also asked not to be identified was upbeat about the prospect of Netanyahu falling from power. “If Netanyahu goes to jail we will have peace, because he’s extreme against the Arabs. Anyone in his place will be better. I don’t care if he goes to jail or not, but I care that he go out of government.”
Ramallah businessman Sam Bahour said: “This is an internal Israeli affair. I can’t get too excited about another Israeli politician being indicted or even convicted. We’ve been there before and I don’t think it has much ramification on the Israeli government position of how to deal with the peace process or the Palestinians. There’s a continuity from all the governments in how they deal with us regardless of if it’s Netanyahu or someone else.”
But he added: “Having said that, Netanyahu was clearly an obstacle by maintaining this right-wing government. So, hopefully, him getting out of the political theater may open up some opportunities for Israelis to see that their successive governments have been heading in the wrong direction. Any change of leadership is an opportunity for a course redirection.”
Some Jordanians are also following the Netanyahu scandals with interest. Jordanian academic Hassan Barari, a specialist in Israeli politics, wrote in Tuesday’s Jordan Times that if Netanyahu falls, it will not lead to a peace breakthrough.
“If anything, Netanyahu will be succeeded by a right-wing leader atop almost the same governing coalition. More importantly, a center-left coalition is still far-fetched. In other words, the political rivalries will be only among the right-wing coalition. And no matter who will emerge victorious, the political game will continue unchecked. Over the last two decades, Israeli society has shifted rightward. It follows that, forming a peace coalition is mission impossible.”