Perhaps Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu underwent more difficult weeks in his 32-year-long political career, and should he be found guilty on at least some of the counts for which he is standing trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, he might undergo much worse. However, last week was undoubtedly not an easy week for our prime minister.
The fact that July 1 went by without even a mild signal of any annexation in Judea and Samaria, was not only an embarrassment for Netanyahu vis-à-vis the settlers and members of the more extreme Right, who danced and pranced at the White House on January 28, when US President Donald Trump’s “Deal of the Century” was launched at a press conference, but signals a possible political defeat for him – a defeat which, if realized, could bury his aspiration to go down into history as he who realized the annexation of all the Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria to Israel.
Netanyahu apparently believed – and might still believe – that the deal would enable him to annex about 30% of the West Bank, without offering the Palestinians anything in return. Not surprisingly, today nobody in the world outside Israel – except for the Evangelicals, who have an agenda of their own designed to bring about the return of the Messiah, and the American Ambassador to Jerusalem, who also serves as the settlers’ Ambassador to Washington – appears to support a unilateral annexation at this point of time, and even Trump appears more concerned with other issues, although the Evangelicals might finally prevail, due to Trump’s electoral difficulties.
THE SECOND issue on which Netanyahu suffered a major disappointment last week concerns his request to receive a gift of NIS 10 million from his American millionaire friend Spencer Partridge to pay for his defense team in his trial, which was declined by the Permits Committee in the State Comptroller’s Office, after the attorney general refused to approve the request. State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman, appointed by Netanyahu 13 months ago, with the intention that there should be a personality more partial to himself in the position than Englman’s predecessor had been, was unable to cancel the committee’s harsh verdict. In the past, Engelman was willing to approve a NIS 2m. loan from Partridge on commercial terms. It should be noted that the make-up of the committee was recently changed to facilitate a decision in Netanyahu’s favor.
Though Netanyahu unfairly accuses Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit of conspiring against him, the simple truth is that there are very specific and strict conditions for the approval of state financing for the legal costs of politicians standing trial, or alternatively for financing such costs from donations, but Netanyahu – who is a wealthy man, who can well afford to pay his attorneys from his own pocket – simply does not qualify.
Whereas the first two issues concern Netanyahu’s refusal to accept reality: 1) the fact that annexation without an agreement with the Palestinians is simply not an option at the moment (besides being undesirable for Israel’s future in the eyes of many), and 2) the fact that he is not entitled to accept vast sums of donations for his legal team because of what the law says and due to his personal wealth (which he refuses to admit, and the source of which is not always clear), the third issue is of a different nature.
IN THE past week there has been a growing number of people whose voices matter criticizing Netanyahu directly or indirectly for the poor management of the coronavirus pandemic and its economic consequences.This comes against the background of the fact that on the medical side of the problem, the situation seems to be running in the direction of loss of control over the growing number of persons who are contracting the disease, and that on the economic side of the problem, Israel seems to be facing a long-term economic slump, with a significant slowdown in the economy and extremely high rates of unemployment and bankruptcies, which might necessitate some New Deal-style solutions, side by side with expectations that market forces will do the job as long as enough money is poured into the right pockets. All this undermines Netanyahu’s pretense to being a great and omnipotent statesman, which many of his followers accept without any doubts.
Supposedly, Netanyahu is well aware of his predicament in this sphere, but true to his nature, he is nowhere near accepting responsibility or changing course.
No one doubts that Netanyahu understands the complexity of the problems, or the fact that he has the capabilities required to cope with them. The problem is the “how” – the modus operandi. Netanyahu’s centralistic approach leaves all the major decisions in his own hands. He suspects anyone who expresses opinions that diverge from his own of being politically motivated and with intentions to harm him personally. He avoids creating a central body to manage both the medical and economic sides of the crisis, with inter-ministerial teams to coordinate specific issues.
He avoids mobilizing existing bodies such as the National Emergency Authority in the Ministry of Defense, which was established in 2007 to coordinate among the various factors in charge of dealing with civilians in times of emergency (including epidemics) and the various emergency units within the Ministry of Health that are designed to deal with epidemics, to work together, in coordination, under a single roof.
It was rather pathetic to hear Netanyahu in his most recent TV appearance, together with Minister of Health Yuli Edelstein, repeating his old message that Israel was the most effective country in the world in confronting the coronavirus pandemic when it first broke out, and that he was approached by leaders from all around the world to hear from him how he had done it, when we all know that Israel has been excluded from the list of green countries whose citizens are welcome to start visiting the EU member states, because its initial success failed to cope with the consequences of the lockdown, and did not result in an effective epidemiological set up to keep the epidemic at bay and under control.
Netanyahu often repeated the fact that he has consulted experts (supposedly epidemiologists and economists), on how to confront the two branches of the crisis. He declared that day and night that he is trying to figure out how to cope simultaneously with the medical and economic aspects of the crisis. But by now a strategic decision-making apparatus should have been established. All the consultation and coordination should have been assigned to that body, and all the input and output shared with all the relevant parties – not only with whomever Netanyahu “delights to honor.”
One man – no matter how bright and knowledgeable he might be – simply cannot do the job properly on his own.