Netanyahu’s five recycled and broken promises to the Right

During his 11 years in office, Netanyahu has excelled at politically expedient statements that dazzle voters.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Can he work together with his fellow ministers? (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Can he work together with his fellow ministers?
“The public has stopped buying [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s lies,” the Blue and White Party tweeted on Monday as election fever continued to heat up in advance of Wednesday’s vote to disband the Knesset.
The party that issued the tweet is not in the opposition but Netanyahu’s main coalition partner, whose leader is Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz.
The topic they were referencing was the budget, but the charge itself is one of the accusations most often leveled against Netanyahu, including by those who hold weekly protests outside his home.
During his 11 years in office, Netanyahu has excelled at politically expedient statements that dazzle voters with utopian-like promises – such as West Bank annexation – which can then disappear all together, like water from a summer shower that dries even before it hits the hot pavement.
In some instances these pledges peter out into smaller half steps toward a rosy future, such as advancement of plans for building in a contentious area of the Ma’aleh Adumim settlement known as E1.
Netanyahu has excelled at the sleight of hand: the slow inching forward. In places where he promised one thing, but done another, he often relies on the public to understand that the significance of the hour necessitates a policy shift.
A number of them are stated in such a way that the meaning itself changes based on the context, such as the promise to never uproot settlers, despite the outposts demolished under his watch. Or his statement both in support and against a Palestinian state, with the line between a falsehood and a smart flexible policy being in some cases almost indiscernible.
Netanyahu’s fallback is often to blame institutions over which he lacks complete power, such as the courts, Israeli bureaucracy or the international community, which can easily be blamed for the failed pledges.
At times, it almost seems as if he recycles promises, which logic would dictate he should have understood from the start would have been difficult to fulfill.
It is Netanyahu’s promises to the Right, which he considers his home base, that he has backtracked on the most, like an unfaithful husband who promises his wife that the affair he had will be his last.
Netanyahu is not the only politician with unfulfilled pledges. One need only look at former prime minister Ariel Sharon, who promised to support the Gaza settlements only to later destroy them.
To be fair, Netanyahu has secured enormous achievements on the diplomatic stage. Under his watch, US President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocated the US Embassy to Jerusalem. The Trump administration recognized the legitimacy of the settlements and allowed for settlement products to be labeled “Made in Israel.”
Netanyahu entered into two historic normalization deals with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, with a third with Sudan on the way, without ceding an inch of territory.
But to do so, he failed to make good on his pledge to annex the settlements, which had been a central part of his election platform. Many of the advances he made for settlements with the US are likely to be undone with the incoming Biden administration.
Should the government fall this week or in the coming months, it’s already clear that the battle for the premiership will run to the Right, where Netanyahu will have to vie for votes against Yamina Party head Naftali Bennett. Polls already show the two parties almost neck and neck. Voters will then have to decide whether Netanyahu has fulfilled enough of their expectations to secure another term in office, or whether they want to shift their alliance to another candidate whose promises they trust more.
Here are five examples of recycled and broken promises Netanyahu has made to the Right:
1. E1
In 2012, Netanyahu promised to advance plans for 3,426 homes in a highly contested area of Ma’aleh Adumim known as E1. Building in such an area just outside of Jerusalem is seen as a diplomatic redline for the international community and the Palestinians, who hold that it would harm the future viability of a Palestinian state. The Right believes it’s a necessary step to ensure a united Jerusalem.
In 2012, the UN General Assembly voted to upgrade the Palestinian status at the UN to that of a non-member state, a move that was seen as granting it de-facto statehood status. In the aftermath of that vote, Netanyahu approved 3,426 homes in E1 for deposit, but then nothing happened with the project for eight years. Then during the third election cycle, in February 2020, he made the same announcement: that he was advancing plans for E1. At issue was the same deposit from eight years ago, which he now allowed to be published. Left-wing group Peace Now has filed an objection and is now waiting for a date to be set for a hearing on that objection.
2. Gilad Farm as a settlement
In 2018, the government authorized the transformation of the Gilad Farm outpost into a settlement, but to date, the work to finalize the authorization process has yet to be completed. Settlers have complained that not enough time and resources have gone into the matter, noting that progress has slowed to a trickle. The Right is particularly concerned that time was wasted during the Trump administration on work that may now be frozen under the incoming Biden administration.
3. 346 homes in Beit El
In October, the Civil Administration gave final approval to 346 settler homes in the Beit El settlement, which Netanyahu has promised the community. But nothing can happen with the project because a military base is located on the site and no budget has been allocated yet for its removal.
In August 2019, Netanyahu came to Beit El to lay a cornerstone for the new neighborhood, noting that in doing so he was making good on a promise. He said “a word with us is a word, sometimes it takes a while, but we do it.” He spoke of the military base issue as a matter that had been resolved. But a year later, Beit El Council head Shai Alon told The Jerusalem Post, “we still cannot build.” Now he is worried that unless something happens soon, the project will be frozen by the Biden administration.
4. Khan al-Ahmar
In October 2018, Netanyahu promised his voters that the illegal West Bank Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar would be evacuated.
“Khan al-Ahmar will be evacuated, with or without an agreement. It will not take weeks; it will be much shorter.... I am not talking about a cosmetic evacuation but a real evacuation,” he said. Netanyahu spoke after he had halted plans by former defense minister Avigdor Liberman to evacuate the village.
When Netanyahu made that pledge he knew that International Criminal Court Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda had warned that such an evacuation could be considered a war crime.
If Netanyahu is going to go head to head with the ICC, then it is preferable to do so on issues where the argument in favor of Israel’s actions is on stronger footing. This would include Gaza, where Israel holds its action are a matter of self-defense. Or the annexation of West Bank settlements, which Israel holds are built on land with Jewish historical and religious roots going back thousands of years.
Given the real possibility of ICC cases against Israelis on those two topics, it is less logical to get entangled with the ICC on the issue of forced population relocation when the issue is a small community of 180, and even if it involves buildings that Israel considers to be illegal.
Yet, knowing all this, Netanyahu promised evacuation. He then related that pledge again during the elections, including in April 2019.
When right-wing NGO Regavim then submitted a petition to the High Court of Justice to force his hand on the evacuation, Netanyahu asked for a number of delays with regard to presenting the state’s position.
The court on Sunday gave the state until July to present its opinion, thereby opening the door to further delays. Now, it’s likely the matter could be adjudicated when US President-elect Joe Biden is in office. Given that Biden is expected to oppose such an evacuation, US-Israel relations will come into play. After that, it is possible that Israel could be in the midst of another election, an event that could once again delay the matter.
5. Annexation of settlements
Through three elections Netanyahu promised to annex the settlements. In the first cycle he spoke about it vaguely. During the second one he promised to annex the Jordan Valley and the rest later. By the time the third one came around, he spoke of unilateral annexation of all the settlements. Then he said he would do it with US support, then he said he would annex as soon as the government was formed, and then he delayed the move until at least July. Then he suspended annexation all together in favor of Israeli normalization deals with the UAE and Bahrain. Now that Biden will be in the White House, it is unlikely that annexation will happen at all.