Israel politics: In search of ‘industrial quiet’

With no French peace initiative, President Obama not mentioning Israel in his UN speech, and no real threat on the domestic political front, Benjamin Netanyahu is hoping things remain tranquil.

Netanyahu walks to the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Netanyahu walks to the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had no contact with the world outside his airplane during his 12-hour flight on Tuesday from Israel to New York, where he flew to address the UN General Assembly.
Due to the lack of in-flight Internet and a satellite phone not being used, Netanyahu was reportedly among the last to know about the Russian attack on rebels in Syria, even though Israel was updated in advance by the Kremlin.
He did not know that while he was in the air, his closest political ally, Transportation Minister Israel Katz, came out against his plan to create an “Israel Republican Party” in which multiple right-wing parties would run together.
Netanyahu sees the plan as the key to win the next election, and he needs Katz to carry it out. The minister is the head of the Likud’s governing secretariat, so his opinion bears weight, even though he has shed dozens of pounds.
As the prime minister was served his in-flight meal, the price of a kilo of tomatoes rose to an incredible NIS 18, due to an extreme shortage. Netanyahu did not know about that either, though he also might not have known had he been on the ground.
The newspaper Netanyahu loves to hate, Yediot Aharonot, mocked the prime minister for allowing himself to disconnect, asking how such a thing could happen to the head of a supposedly budding hi-tech superpower.
But what’s so bad about Netanyahu being blissfully unaware of the world below? Had there been something truly urgent, the satellite phone could have come out, and there was obviously a connection between the cockpit and the outside world.
Netanyahu’s advisers like to use the term “industrial quiet” to describe what they try to achieve for their boss. Having that kind of silence could be useful to a prime minister who was presumably working on his UN speech during the flight with his trusted communications adviser Mark Regev, who is soon to become ambassador to the United Kingdom.
The real problem would be if Netanyahu remained disconnected from the world when he arrived. That is what his critics accuse him of on a daily basis.
They say the international community ignored his advice on the Iranian nuclear deal, world leaders blame him and Israel for the stalemate in the peace process with the Palestinians, and Europe is starting to label Israeli products from over the Green Line, despite Netanyahu’s accusations that such policies “return Europe to its dark days.”
Netanyahu’s speech to the UN Thursday night was to a body of leaders who have not proven to be the best listeners to his speeches in the past.
So how isolated is the prime minister? Well, he has visited London, Moscow, Nicosia, and Rome in recent weeks. He is in New York now and will be going to Germany next Wednesday to meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel. He did not meet with President Barack Obama on his current trip, but he will when he returns to the US in just five weeks.
Having such an extensive itinerary, of course, does not mean that every meeting goes well. But the doors remain open.
World leaders will be waiting to hear about prospective Iranian violations of the nuclear deal. They are not expecting him to remain silent as the deal starts being implemented.
He will make sure the issue remains on the international agenda and that there will be no “industrial quiet” for Iran.
On the Palestinian issue, the United Nations General Assembly appears to be passing without the serious damage that was predicted.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’s speech, which was full of accusations against Israel, was criticized by former justice ministers Tzipi Livni and Yossi Beilin, not just Netanyahu. The “bombshell” Abbas promised ended up being just another empty threat to stop implementing the Oslo process that Beilin initiated.
Abbas failed to deliver a serious gesture from the international community at the assembly, making do with the symbolic addition of a Palestinian flag, along with that of the Vatican, to those of countries around the world.
As Livni pointed out, in the world outside the UN, a flag does not make a state. It goes the other way.
The flag-flapping was a far cry from what had been expected months ago on the Palestinian front at the assembly. There was supposed to be a French proposal passed to set a deadline for Israeli withdrawals and the creation of a Palestinian state.
There was also talk of an American proposal that would be less strong than that of the French but more serious because of the US imprint. Such a proposal was predicted as revenge by Obama against Netanyahu for his efforts against the Iran deal.
But there was no proposal from the French or the Americans, and Obama did not mention Israel or the Palestinians in his speech to the UN. Channel 2 reported from Ramallah that the Palestinian people were more interested in a wedding for a former Arab Idol winner than in Abbas’s UN address.
That is the kind of “industrial quiet” Netanyahu presumably does not mind if his goal is to hunker down and wait for a less problematic American president before embarking on any serious diplomatic maneuvers.
On the internal political front, Netanyahu is enjoying the Knesset’s extremely long summer and holiday recess. Kids go back to school on October 7, but the Knesset members will come back five days later, and they have already been off for two months.
Only then will Netanyahu have to deal with the competition between Labor’s Isaac Herzog and Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid over who is the real opposition leader.
Herzog will then get busy with internal Labor politics, which could sideline him for a while and perhaps permanently.
If Netanyahu passes the 2015-2016 state budget, he could have relative “industrial quiet” in internal politics for almost an entire year.
It won’t quite be what he enjoyed on the plane on the way to New York, but for a prime minister who has endured a lot of challenges, it could be a lot worse.