A country’s leader is tested in defining moments. In the last few weeks, there were at least two such moments in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could be perceived as a balanced and responsible leader, one who sees the good of Israel and Israeli society.
The first moment was a few weeks ago when President Isaac Herzog presented his compromise outline in a brave attempt to end the crisis. The second was just over a week ago, after the speech of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who warned that the IDF will disintegrate if we do not reach a national consensus.
In addition to Gallant’s statement for a temporary halt to the legal reform legislation, National Unity’s chairman Benny Gantz also issued a plea to Netanyahu. He pledged political support if Netanyahu delayed the legislation until after Independence Day. This would give time to reach a compromise and allow the entire nation to celebrate Passover, the holiday of freedom, to mourn on Remembrance Day as one nation and to rejoice as a united people on the 75th Independence Day of Israel.
These were significant points made by Gantz and marked an opportunity to get out of the crisis. However, Netanyahu, showing the conduct of a political novice, chose not to act as a national leader and probably brought about the end of his political career with his own hands.
True, the majority of the Israeli public supports a judicial reform, one that would regulate the relationship between the three authorities and stop the Supreme Court’s blatant interference in government policy and legislation in the Knesset for the past three decades.
Indeed, the claim that Israel will become a dictatorship after accepting the judicial reform has no basis in reality and is the result of social construction by the organizers and initiators of the protest.
And the truth must be written: red lines were crossed in the protest against the judicial reform in the outrageous calls of refusal by reservists, among them fighter pilots, became a matter of routine. But the role of a prime minister is to act with national responsibility and above all, to know when to compromise. This is where Netanyahu’s failure lies.
Netanyahu knew how to conduct himself
DURING HIS tenure as prime minister, Netanyahu proved that he knew how to conduct himself as a national leader, one who knows how to compromise as needed for important goals at the national level. His decision from the end of 2009 to go against the right-wing camp and freeze construction in the settlements for 10 months is well remembered, even though it was clear to everyone that the decision would not lead the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.
The Netanyahu of that time, who acted with national responsibility, forced the ministers of the right-wing camp in his cabinet to compromise and vote in favor of the freeze on the settlements. Netanyahu’s goal was to appease the Obama administration in order to receive its assistance in the fight against the Iranian nuclear program, which Netanyahu sees as an existential threat to Israel.
However, today’s Netanyahu, who bluntly announced the firing of Gallant, whose entire sin was to warn of a serious security danger and reflect to Netanyahu the fragile state of the IDF, chose instead to listen to the uncompromising and irresponsible position of Justice Minister Yariv Levin and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who were deeply interested in completing the legislation.
In this context, it is difficult to understand why Netanyahu-model 2009 could freeze construction in the settlements for 10 months for PA head Mahmoud Abbas and US president Barack Obama, while Netanyahu-model 2023 did not agree to do the same for his brothers from the opposition for only a month.
In conclusion, throughout his long tenure as prime minister, Netanyahu knew how to steer the ship with responsibility and discretion, which gave him the support of the mainstream Israeli public who saw him as a balanced and responsible leader. It is hard to believe that a leader of such stature as Netanyahu, the prime minister who served for 16 years and a political wizard on a global scale, behaved like a political rookie lacking experience and basic common sense.
His irresponsible behavior in recent weeks and his failure to force a compromise on his coalition, both after the presentation of Herzog’s outline and after Gallant’s speech, will probably lead to the end of his reign and the end of his glorious political career. Netanyahu has lost the support of the mainstream Israeli public and from here, there is no way back. What a shame.
The writer is a researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) at Tel Aviv University and a research fellow at the University of South Wales, UK.