Two months ago at the UN General Assembly, we proudly watched as our prime
minister employed his golden tongue to promote the case for Israel. It was
reminiscent of his previous address to Congress, which evoked repeated
bipartisan standing ovations.
In addition, today, irrespective of the
merits of the prisoner- exchange deal with Hamas, he is applauded by most
Israelis for having achieved the release of Gilad Schalit.
ironically probably no Israeli prime minister has ever encountered so much
hatred and resentment from both his constituents and much of the media, who
unrelentingly defame him and his family, failing to even distinguish between his
personal and public life.
Netanyahu’s critics allege that he has major
character deficiencies. He is frequently depicted as a cold hearted person
incapable of forming lasting relationships. Some of his former associates accuse
him of lacking loyalty and flippantly abandoning his friends and allies whenever
it suited him.
They claim that under pressure Netanyahu is indecisive and
tends to wilt. That, in lieu of displaying leadership he has a penchant to send
up “trial balloons,” only implementing policies when confident he will receive
In contrast to former ascetic leaders like David
Ben-Gurion and Menahem Begin, he is frequently accused of being hedonistic and
leading an extravagant lifestyle. The hostile media continuously allege that he
frivolously wastes taxpayer’s funds at luxury hotels, despite the fact that it
would have been degrading for Israel were its prime minister to behave
Needless to say, his principal opposition emanates from the
far Left, which depicts him as a cold hearted capitalist and fanatical
nationalist, insensitive of others. To this day he is still accused of having
created the climate of hatred which led to the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.
Yet in reality he correctly predicted that the Oslo Accords were a prescription
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His government coalition is problematic, as exemplified by
frequent contradictory statements and public spats between him and his foreign
minister and the inexcusable delays in important appointments, such as the
endless deferrals that took place prior to a permanent ambassador to the UN
Netanyahu’s former Likud associate Tzipi Livni, the head
of Kadima and leader of the opposition, spares no effort in demonizing him. She
condemned him for agreeing to the 10-month settlement freeze, then accused him
of undermining the Israel-US relationship when he refused to renew it. She
blames him, rather than Abbas, for the breakdown in negotiations with the
Palestinians. Instead of supporting Netanyahu against US President Barack
Obama’s one-sided pressure, she placed all the blame on him. Despite the
severity of the threats currently confronting us, she has refused to consider a
unity government or even adopt a constructive opposition role.
TO say, Netanyahu is far from perfect, and some of the criticisms leveled
against him may have merit.
But one must balance these deficiencies by
taking into account his achievements.
Netanyahu’s greatest success is
that despite presiding over a solidly right-wing coalition, he has effectively
moved the nation towards a centrist position, achieving the broadest consensus
amongst the people since the rupture over the Oslo Accords.
continuously accused by his critics of intransigence and taking advantage of
every opportunity to prevent Israel from establishing an accommodation with its
neighbors, he has in fact displayed even greater flexibility than Yitzhak Rabin.
He steered Likud and Israel Beiteinu toward adopting the principle of a
two-state solution – subject to having a genuine Palestinian peace partner –
which, through no fault of his, is currently nowhere on the horizon.
alienated him from the hawkish elements of the coalition who accuse him of
capitulating to American pressure.
Netanyahu assumed office as the nation
faced one of the most difficult periods in its relationship with its vital ally,
the United States. He was confronted with an American president who from the
outset was overtly personally offensive towards him, making it clear that he had
no confidence in him or in his “right-wing” government.
Netanyahu maintained his balance on an extraordinary diplomatic tightrope,
refusing to yield on issues crucial to Israel’s security while persuading his
right-wing coalition partners to accept unprecedented concessions like the
10-month freeze on settlements in order to assuage Obama and avoid further
polarizing the relationship between the two countries.
Although he was
bitterly criticized for “embarrassing” the president on his visit to Washington,
his refusal to submit to Obama’s unexpected bullying, combined with his eloquent
presentation to Congress, will be regarded in history as having effectively
intensified the tide of public opinion in the United States in favor of
It undoubtedly paved the way for the dramatic turnabout by Obama
in his pro-Israeli speech at the UN General Assembly and at least, for the time
being, the more balanced approach adopted towards Israel.
NETANYAHU does, he will be criticized. To this day, most media commentators
continue to castigate him for failing to forestall the Palestinians by launching
his own initiative and blame him for Israel’s current isolation. But what could
he be expected to do with a nonexistent peace partner who has no intention of
compromising one iota and is merely seeking to rack up further concessions
Initially encouraged by Obama, Abbas developed this tactic
of “we take, you give,” trying to force Israel to extend further concessions
without even a hint of reciprocity and then demanding that these become the
opening benchmark for subsequent negotiations. It is essentially a strategy
designed to dismantle the Jewish state in stages.
It is thus ridiculous
to blame Netanyahu for not rewarding Palestinian intransigence by making further
concessions. He made repeated unconditional offers to negotiate but was rebuffed
even after introducing an unprecedented settlement freeze.
may yearn nostalgically for the days of the warm and dynamic Menahem Begin or
the straightforward, no-nonsense Yitzhak Rabin. But it was Netanyahu who
reunited the nation, divided since Oslo with marginalizing extremists on both
the Left and the Right.
He achieved the best possible outcome during the
course of one of the most difficult periods in the history of Israel, when
Islamic radicalism in all our neighboring countries grew exponentially. He did
so while confronted by a highly problematic US president who until very recently
appeased our enemies and put distance between us and the United States, further
compounded by personal animosity, reflected in his uncomplimentary remarks in
conversation with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Despite the need for
internal economic reforms, which are underway, Netanyahu can also take credit
for having laid the foundations for an economy which enabled Israel to bypass
the recent global economic meltdown.
It is much too early to be
conclusive but, notwithstanding the weaknesses and human frailties of our prime
minister, today most Israelis – including many who have reservations about some
of his qualities or consider him either too weak or too extreme – would find it
difficult to deny that he stands head and shoulders above any other contender
for leadership of the nation during these troubled times.
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