Reality Check: More Yitzhak Shamir than Winston Churchill

Netanyahu may see himself as the old British PM, warning of dangers of Iran, but in reality, he resembles one of least successful premiers.

binyamin netanyahu 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
binyamin netanyahu 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Even though Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will succeed in passing the state budget at the end of the month, he can start counting down the days. Unless he, two years too late, finally decides to act like a leader and seeks to articulate and then implement a vision for the country, his coalition will shatter along the numerous fault lines running between the different parties.
Last week’s battle between Shas and Israel Beiteinu over the validity of IDF conversions was the first skirmish and there are plenty more to come, particularly along religious-secular issues.
Labor, meanwhile, will belatedly realize that its continued membership in a government that has not only done nothing to advance the peace process, but has actually torpedoed it, is unconscionable. Indeed, Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben- Eliezer’s sudden support for Amram Mitzna as a suitable candidate for the Labor leadership is a sign that the party is beginning to stir from its slumber.
There is, of course, a certain irony in Ben-Eliezer’s support for Mitzna, given the fact that he lost out to him for the Labor leadership in 2002 and then proceeded to make the new leader’s life a misery until Mitzna abandoned the role after leading Labor to its second worst electoral performance in 2003.
In terms of his personal qualities, there can be no doubting Mitzna’s stature: A truly modest man with high moral standards, he was an outstanding IDF major-general who successfully made the switch to civilian life, winning two elections as mayor of Haifa before becoming Labor leader. After quitting national politics, he then ran the Negev town of Yeroham for the past five years as an appointed mayor, getting it back on its feet following the incompetence of the town’s elected administration. But the question still remains as to whether he has the political cunning and strength of character to lead a national party as disputatious as Labor.
THE REASON for all this sudden ferment in the coalition is twofold. Firstly, it’s the natural state of a government halfway through its nominal four-year term.
Once our politicians realize there’s less than two years to go, they begin looking toward the next election and start staking out positions to strengthen both their own standing within the party and to differentiate their party from the others in the coalition.
Needless to say, this has a deleterious effect on coalition discipline. Differences of views between the parties turn into irreconcilable (at least until after the election) fractures, and the government either falls or the prime minister decides he can no longer face his so-called allies around the cabinet table and schedules an early election.
The second reason is the absence of leadership.
Netanyahu might see himself as a Churchillian figure, warning of the dangers of Iran, but in reality, the prime minister he most resembles is Yitzhak Shamir, the least successful and most forgotten of all Israeli premiers, although, to give him his due, he made one very brave and decidedly out-of-character decision: not to retaliate when Iraq fired Scud missiles at the country during the First Gulf War.
But aside from that one decision not to undermine the US-led coalition by independently attacking Baghdad, Shamir was a disaster. His policy of obstructing any attempt to make peace (most notably Shimon Peres’ 1987 London Agreement with Jordan’s King Hussein), coupled with his enthusiasm for settlement in the West Bank, led to strained ties with the US and, later, the outbreak of the first intifada in 1987. Ultimately, Shamir’s intransigence was of no benefit, he finally had to agree to the 1991 international peace conference in Madrid, seen by many as the stepping stone to the Oslo process.
Like Shamir, Netanyahu wants to block rather than promote any attempt to make peace. Following in the footsteps of another disgraced premier, Golda Meir, Netanyahu fails to understand that a diplomatic freeze will eventually lead to disaster. On the eve of the Yom Kippur War, the country was enjoying a period of economic prosperity, just as today the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange is breaking records almost daily.
But in the absence of peace, this sense of well-being is illusory, as Meir found out to the country’s huge cost. When Netanyahu returned to the premiership a decade after his first term, he said he had learned the lessons of the past and was ready to lead us into a safe and secure future. Halfway into his second term, he has shown no such leadership and his premiership so far has been one, massive waste of time.
And time is the one luxury Israel does not enjoy if it wishes to remain a Jewish and democratic country.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.