No one, it’s safe to assume, fell out of their chair on Friday when it was first reported that US President Joe Biden would be postponing his first trip to Israel as president.
Biden was originally slated to come at the end of the month, after attending G7 and NATO summits in Europe. But then, Israel’s political problems intervened, the government of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett seemed to be hanging by gossamer threads, and it was clear to all that this was not the most opportune political moment for a presidential visit.
Let’s say for a second that the government falls between now and the end of the month – not something that necessarily stretches the imagination – then what use would it be for Biden to meet a lame-duck Israeli prime minister?
Biden, for his domestic political interests, would hope that his trip to Israel would yield some concrete result on something – be it widening the Abraham Accords, jump-starting the Palestinian track, or reaching some kind of understanding with Israel about Iran.
But what chance would there be for any of that happening during a meeting with one man (Bennett) who might be out of office at the end of June, and another man – Foreign Minister and alternate prime minister Yair Lapid – who may never make it to the top of the pyramid, at least not in the current Knesset.
Neither Biden nor his advisers gave any explanation for the postponement. This led to a wide range of speculation. Some said that it was indeed a result of the precarious political situation in Israel. Others said that additional time was needed to put together a meeting in Riyadh with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – remember, Biden said before the last elections he would treat Saudi leaders like the “pariah that they are.” And still, others attributed the postponement to the spate of mass shootings in the US and the worsening economic situation there.
Whatever the reasons, the president’s end-of-June visit was put off “until next month.” Don’t be surprised if it is further postponed – especially if the central reason had to do with Israel’s political crisis.
Even if the government does not fall this week or next, it is widely perceived – both in Israel and abroad – as weak and on its last legs. Many leaders, not only Biden, will be asking themselves how much time and energy to invest in the current government and its leaders, not knowing how long, or even if, they will be around much longer.
Bennett's letter to the "Silent Zionist Majority"
Bennett himself added to the general sense that the government is in its final days when he wrote a 28-page “letter to the Silent Zionist Majority” at the end of last week, reminding it why this government was formed in the first place – to extract the country from the morass it fell into as a result of four inconclusive elections and an obsession with former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The letter came just days shy of the one-year anniversary of the government (June 13), and parts of it read like the type of press releases Netanyahu used to put out on milestone dates for his coalitions.
But this once had a different, even desperate, tone. Bennett urged supporters to rally in the streets in favor of the government, and not only did he boast about what his government has done, he also warned that the country could fall apart if it were to be ousted from power. Nothing less: either this government or doom.
Bennett, even before he was prime minister and was serving as education minister in Netanyahu’s government, would – as he did in this letter – say on occasion that the Jewish people have only known two periods of independence and sovereignty in their long history and that neither of those periods, during the reign of King David and King Solomon, and in the days of the Hasmoneans, lasted more than 80 years.
“We are all being tested whether we will be smart enough to make it through the eighth decade as a united, sovereign state, or will we again fail because of internal conflicts,” Bennett wrote. His message was clear: if this government collapses, then the country is in danger of failing again “because of internal conflicts.” In other words, if this government collapses, so too could the state.
Set aside the question as to whether that really is the case, and think for a minute of the message this sends to Israel’s enemies. The letter is addressed to the “silent Zionist majority,” but the leaders of Hezbollah, the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and Iran also have access to it. And what they must hear when reading it is the prime minister of the Jewish State saying that the country is in such a precarious state, that a change of government could bring about it downfall.
Although obviously, not something Bennett intended, this sounds like support for Hezbollah’s head Hassan Nasrallah’s ridiculous claim in 2000 that Israel was as fragile as a spider’s web and all that was needed was to blow on it hard and it would disappear.
Bennett referred to his government in the letter as a “government of national salvation,” and that the alternative to it was darkness, chaos and possible doom.
The problem with that message is that it does not give the people in this country enough credit. It under-estimates their inherent resilience, their healthy will to survive – something that will keep its leaders from doing anything that would thrust the country into utter darkness, chaos and doom.
Bennett’s year in power has proven that the country can carry on and thrive without Netanyahu. Likewise, the country can carry out and thrive without Bennett and his ”government of national salvation.” It will also carry on and thrive if Netanyahu comes back.
How? Because the people who make up the country desire life, have learned from history and will utilize the necessary checks that exist in the system to ensure that no one pushes the country over the brink.