In India, a late Thanksgiving for Netanyahu

This past week might have been the best for Netanyahu of his current term in office. He has had, of course, many other trips abroad this term, but none received as positive coverage in the media.

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January 20, 2018 05:12
Netanyahu Taj Mahal

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara Netanyahu at the Taj Mahal, January 16, 2018. (photo credit: AVI OHAYON - GPO)

 
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu loved every moment of his visit to India: from the warm welcome he received from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to the defense and business pacts they signed, to the visit to the Taj Mahal, to the food.

Yes, Netanyahu confessed repeatedly on the trip, he loves Indian food. He even revealed that his first date with his wife, Sara, 27 years ago, was at the Tandoori restaurant in Tel Aviv.

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When Netanyahu comes back, he should celebrate by eating a good old-fashioned Thanksgiving meal – not just because turkey is called tarnegol hodu (literally, both Indian fowl and fowl of thankfulness) in Hebrew, but because he has so much to be thankful for.
PM Netanyahu's 5-day trip to India in January 2018 (Video-GPO)

This past week might have been the best for Netanyahu of his current term in office. He has had, of course, many, many other trips abroad this term, but none received as positive coverage in the mainstream Hebrew media. After past trips, Netanyahu complained that while he was accomplishing a lot for Israel, the media back home was focusing on minutia involving his family and criminal probes.

This time, Sara Netanyahu’s lawyers were in court while she was in India, but it wasn’t a top story. And Yair Netanyahu stayed home and skipped a trial date, but he was not on the front pages anymore.

Instead, even newspapers normally hostile to the prime minister gave prominence to pictures of him in India, leaving him nothing to kvetch about.

The only possible negativity the Hebrew press found was that the Gal-Mobile water desalination and purification jeep that Netanyahu gave Modi for the people of Suigam village in the Banaskantha district cost NIS 390,000. That’s steep for a gift, and all reports about Netanyahu and gifts are negative.



BUT THAT gift was far overshadowed by the gift that Netanyahu received from Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas. The Palestinian leader’s speech accusing Israelis of being Dutch colonialists, ruling out a peace process, and calling for the destruction of US President Donald Trump’s “house” did wonders for Netanyahu, whether the “house” Abbas had in mind was the white one in Washington, the gold one in New York’s Trump Tower, or the warm one at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida.

Netanyahu has said in the past that one of the reasons he has been expanding Israel’s trade with India, China and Japan is that while Europe lets politics get in the way, Asia deals solely with business. Consequently, the Palestinians were far from the focus of the India trip.

But now, thanks to Abbas, the Palestinians also won’t be near the top of the agenda when Netanyahu meets with European leaders later this month at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

How can they pressure Netanyahu to start a peace process, when his only potential partner has ruled out coming to the table until January 20, 2021, the earliest possible day that Trump (or his even more pro-Israel Vice President Mike Pence, who arrives here Sunday) would leave the White House? Besides the wonderful gift Abbas gave to Netanyahu that made his international diplomacy much easier, he also helped him with internal politics.

When political analysts were asked at the end of December what could bring Netanyahu down politically in 2018, there were three answers: The 2019 state budget, a criminal investigation and a peace process. Less than three weeks into 2018, there is now almost no chance that any of those three could force an election that would be held in the current calendar year.

The budget has already been passed a year in advance in the cabinet and is expected to pass the Knesset without too many headaches. The latest police estimates for recommendations to indict Netanyahu are at the end of March, ahead of the Passover holiday.

All along, it has been said that Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit would need six months to make his big decision on whether to issue an indictment.

With some of those months being in the summer, when the legal system shuts down, and another being full of fall holidays he observes religiously, Mandelblit is no longer expected to decide before November.

Even if an election were initiated in November, it would not take place until February 2019. That means the earliest date for an election and its official date of November 5, 2019, are now only nine months apart.

A peace process initiated by Trump’s son-in- law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, could have thrown the government asunder.

Netanyahu could not have said no to a pro-Israel peace plan that he himself heavily influenced.

The plan reportedly would create a Palestinian entity that is less than a state, and it would not be based on the pre-1967 lines.

Israel would control its borders and the Jordan Valley, Jerusalem would be an issue for negotiations, settlements might not have to be removed, and the Palestinian refugee issue would not be addressed.

Such a plan would undoubtedly please Netanyahu. But Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett could have used it as an excuse to remove his party from the coalition and initiate a general election, in which he would paint himself as the true leader of the Right.

After Abbas came out so far against Trump, there is little danger of that happening anymore.

Leading figures on the Israeli Left blasted Abbas’s speech, and Zionist Union MK Nachman Shai even said the Abbas era is over.

THE LEFT is still showing signs of life. There are now five candidates in the March 22 Meretz chairmanship contest, after there were nine in the Labor Party leadership race on July 4. But Abbas has done more to harm the self-proclaimed Israeli peace camp than anyone, with the possible exception of his predecessor, Yasser Arafat.

The great hope of that peace camp remains that a former IDF chief of staff will come at the last minute ahead of the election, persuade Israelis he can keep them safer than Netanyahu, and either lead a party to victory or help Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid as his No. 2.

But this week there were two reminders that former security officials need time to learn their new trade of politics before they can be effective. Former deputy Mossad chief Ram Ben-Barak joined Yesh Atid at a well-scripted press conference Monday afternoon, but three hours later, interviewer Ya’acov Bardugo tore the unpolished Ben- Barak to shreds on Army Radio.

Tuesday night, former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz dithered and had difficulty completing sentences he started when answering questions he should have expected, following a speech to some 800 people at a convention of municipal companies in Eilat.

“I would give my life for Israeli society, so I would also be willing to give my activity,” Gantz said. “The connotation, situation, the if, and the when, time will tell. There is no question of whether it will be with [Labor Party leader Avi] Gabbay, [Yesh Atid head Yair] Lapid, Likud, Yisrael Beytenu, Bayit Yehudi or Meretz. Everyone talks to everyone. That’s natural.”

What does that mean? Copy editors tried to tweak the quote to make it make sense, but if you listen to the tape of the speech, it clearly did not.

And out of all the five former IDF chiefs who are free agents ahead of the next election, Gantz is the most charismatic, charming, modest, unpretentious and likable. He has far fewer enemies than Gabi Ashkenazi, Moshe Ya’alon, Shaul Mofaz and the man with more enemies than anyone, Ehud Barak.

The bad news for Netanyahu is that because his term is lasting so long, Gantz’s three-year cooling-off period will now be over before an election is initiated. By the most conservative legal estimates, Gantz would be allowed to run any time from next November, when Americans will be celebrating their next Thanksgiving.

That leaves plenty of time for Netanyahu to enjoy his Indian food and revel over this week’s successes.

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