While his fellow politicians and party leaders were scurrying around in search of dry land in the aftermath of last week’s tsunami announcement of early elections, where was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu? Acting all prime ministerial in Brazil.
Back home, Labor head Avi Gabbay was demonstrating that he has a leader’s heart of stone or a misogynist gene, depending on how you view his brutal political beheading of Zionist Union partner Tzipi Livni; Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked were cutting adrift their Bayit Yehudi colleagues and starting their own party (with The Jerusalem Post’s Caroline Glick aboard); ex-generals Benny Gantz and Moshe Ya’alon were launching their own awkwardly named parties in search of the center vote; Kulanu MKs were dropping like bowling pins in the gutter; and the Knesset was rushing in its final days to pass a flurry of last-minute bills.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu was garnering impressive B-roll video in Brasilia for the upcoming Likud campaign ads – attending the inauguration of new Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and even behaving like down-home folk by chowing down in a polo shirt at an outdoor café with his wife, Sara.
Lest he seem out of touch with the goings on in the hyper-charged political atmosphere back home during his five-day trip – an eternity in IST (Israel Standard Time) – Netanyahu hastily arranged a news conference for the Israeli reporters traveling with him, which kept him in the political spotlight but seemingly above the seamy fray in which his fellow pols back home were immersed.
“Let them fight, backstab, divorce and declare,” he probably would have liked to say. “I’m the prime minister, I’m representing the Jewish state, and I’m rubbing shoulders with world leaders. I’m above all that.”
Sensing a Likud landslide in the coming election, Netanyahu’s main point was that he was digging in to remain the party’s leader and prime minister. He won’t step down if Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit announces intentions to indict him and launches pre-indictment hearings in any of the cases that have been dogging him for years.
It’s a natural strategy for Netanyahu to adopt. His modus operandi has been to portray himself as the only person who can lead Israel in this era of security, economic and social challenges. And fortunately for him, his potential rival successors – like Gabbay with his callous behavior and Gantz with his silence – are not currently making a case that they are up to the task.
Netanyahu is loved and hated in Israel. He’s perceived by critics as the great divider: playing sectors of society off of each other, fomenting fear, and creating an us (the Right) versus them (everyone else) mentality.
That’s why it’s difficult for those who disdain him to credit the prime minister for anything, despite some formidable accomplishments to boast of during his decade at the helm of the Jewish state, in both the diplomatic and economic spheres.
Under his leadership, the Israeli economy has stabilized and even flourished, as more and more multinational corporations and hi-tech giants are looking to us for partnership and investment. But the middle and lower classes are not benefiting from the good times.
No matter that he exploits it to his political gain whenever possible, Netanyahu is Mr. Security, whether maintaining vigil against Iran and Hezbollah on the northern border or Hamas in the South. He has not moved any closer toward the Palestinians regarding a two-state solution, but blame for that can be passed around to both sides.
His statesmanship has opened doors for Israel in Asia, Africa and South America, and he’s able to finesse relationships with wildly diverse and eccentric but hugely important leaders as Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump.
Netanyahu’s face and name are known around the world, and he has gained the grudging respect of the world as a survivor and savvy strategist, committed to Israel’s well-being and security. He may be the “hardline” Bibi, as foreign news agencies love to label him, but his name is known globally as Israel’s defender.
THAT’S WHY it’s time for Netanyahu to leave the public arena on a high note before the coming election.
Ahead of Mandelblit’s fateful decision, Netanyahu can do the country and himself a huge favor and work out an agreement with the attorney-general to leave politics in exchange for the closing of the cases against him. As previously reported in the Post, Mandelblit would be inclined to accept a deal under which Netanyahu steps down, decides not to run for reelection, and in exchange has all the cases against him closed.
It’s clear that he’s headed for victory in April, come indictment or not. By leaving now, the country will be spared the turmoil, strife and embarrassment of watching a sitting prime minister leave office to endure a painful public trial, with the likely end result of him being sent to prison for a bribery conviction.
Wouldn’t it be better for Netanyahu himself to close the political chapter of his life at its peak, where history will look at him as a highly regarded world leader and Israel’s second-longest-serving prime minister, rather than as a convicted felon? Just ask Ehud Olmert and Moshe Katsav.
The walls have been closing around Netanyahu for a while now, echoing a Nixonian “don’t trust anyone” mentality that has seen him gobble up every ministry in his path. This centralized power isn’t healthy for Israel, as the issues we face are too complex to be dealt with by ministries led by absentee ministers.
And despite what Netanyahu would have us think (and by how they’re behaving), there are other MKs, party leaders and experienced politicians who can serve ably as prime minister and handle the threats that surround us and the challenges that face us. But as long as he refuses to leave the public arena, they will never be allowed to flex their muscles and develop their acumen.
Whether one agrees with his policies or not, all Israelis have many reasons to be grateful to Netanyahu for his years of service to the country. Despite the cigars and champagne, the conceit and the bravado, it’s apparent that he places the good of the country paramount to everything he does.
It is time for him to prove that one more time, and do what is best for the country. In his heart, he may indeed believe his “there won’t be anything because there is nothing” mantra, but preventing the long national nightmare of another prime minister going down in shame is more important.
By taking this step, Netanyahu’s legacy as a gifted statesman who boldly thrust Israel into the 21st century will be secured, and his accomplishments will form the firm basis of country’s future. If he doesn’t, he risks losing it all.