Analysis: Shots heard around the world

What would Binyamin Netanyahu say if he was opposition leader, and not prime minister?

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
August 31, 2010 22:59
3 minute read.
Netanyahu disembarking from a plane

netanyahu air force one 311. (photo credit: GPO)

 
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Imagine what Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu would have said following Tuesday's fatal terrorist attack near Hebron had he been opposition leader and not prime minister.

He undoubtedly would have called upon the prime minister to leave Washington immediately and return home to restore Israeli security. He would be saying that the attack proved that Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas had no control over his people and that there was therefore no point in negotiating with him.

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But prime minister is a job infinitely harder than opposition leader and Netanyahu arrived in Washington to a delicate diplomatic situation that was complicated enough before the attack. With the eyes of US President Barack Obama and the rest of the world on him, it is likely that the last thing Netanyahu considered doing upon landing in the US was staying on the plane and going right back home.

It is not the first time a terrorist attack took place while a prime minister was abroad, and it undoubtedly will not be the last. Former prime minister Ariel Sharon dealt with attacks almost every time he went abroad. When a suicide bomber blew himself up at Jerusalem's Cafe Hillel in September 2003, he cut short his trip to India and came home, but in other instances, he didn't.

The attackers intentions were to kill Jews and send a message to Abbas that he should not be negotiating with Israel. But they also tied Netanyahu's hands.

If Netanyahu was considering compromising regarding the construction moratorium in Judea and Samaria when it ends on September 26, now he has no choice but to restart building. Otherwise he would lose his security credentials in addition to his credibility, which are two essential assets for any politician.

Netanyahu's credibility was already being tested before the attack. The settlers ?we are building on your word? campaign was intended to emphasize that the prime minister's integrity was at stake.



The understated message was that breaking a promise to resume building after 10 months would actually harm chances of reaching a diplomatic agreement, because the Palestinians would know that they could not trust any of Netanyahu's future commitments.

Netanyahu is facing no serious challenge in his party, his coalition or his cabinet. He is among the most powerful prime ministers in recent memory. But being branded a liar would have caused Netanyahu great future political damage, even if politically, he could currently get away with it.


The right-wing parties in his coalition are not as right-wing as people give them credit for and they would allow him maneuverability. But the current coalition is almost certainly the only option Netanyahu has.

Kadima has said it would support the negotiations from outside the coalition but already slim chances of the party joining decrease every day as the next election inevitably approaches. Chances of the national Union party joining from the Right after talks break down are also small, because of the extremist views of party chairman Ya'acov Katz, who Tuesday called upon Netanyahu to expedite the building of the Palestinian city Rawabi, because he believes it will be settled by the mass aliya of Diaspora Jewry.

If Netanyahu does end up making serious concessions in the diplomatic process with the Palestinians, it would not be because of some inner desire to decide Israel's borders or to win a Nobel Peace Prize, as might have been true for his predecessors.

For Netanyahu, everything he does has to be seen through the prism of Iran, which is the issue that Netanyahu cares about the most. His associates say he believes he came back to power for this reason and this is why he feels he must be fully cooperating with the international community on the Palestinian issue.

Terrorist attacks like Tuesday's remind Netanyahu that Iran has Hamas, what he would call ?a tentacle of Iran? at its service in both the West Bank and Gaza, and that therefore he must proceed with caution when it comes to talks about Israel relinquishing land in Judea and Samaria.

That is certainly what opposition leader Netanyahu would be telling the prime minister today.


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