Gantz, save Netanyahu and Israel from a tragedy – opinion

The following proposal should be advanced by senior Likud ministers – but given their abdication of responsibility in the past, I turn to Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz.

ANNEXATION IS likely to generate a tragedy for Israel with tragic consequences for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reputation in history.  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
ANNEXATION IS likely to generate a tragedy for Israel with tragic consequences for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reputation in history.
The media proclaim Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s apparent total triumph. Despite being put on trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, he has renewed his prime ministership with 72 MKs in the coalition. His main political opposition party broke apart with more than half of its MKs joining his government. At the opening of his trial, he, unconstrained, charged that he was being framed in an attempted coup. His allies declared he was being prosecuted by a tainted state prosecutor and a criminal attorney-general through a corrupt process. These allegations went un-contradicted by major political figures.
Yet reports of Netanyahu’s apotheosis are premature. An objective outsider would have to rate his chances of being convicted as at least 50-50. Israel’s courts are independent and not likely to roll over – especially when the evidence includes actual taped conversations and testimony from two of his closest aides who worked with him for years. Therefore, Netanyahu’s massive years-long effort to beat the system is likely to end with a tragedy – that he will go to jail.
The almost 50% of Israelis who have been totally alienated by Netanyahu’s policies and/or political behaviors will take issue with the term “tragedy”. They believe that he behaved corruptly and deserves to be punished. I disagree. That a man – who freed up Israel’s economy and presided over a period of great economic growth, strengthened Israel’s international standing, identified the Iranian threat and fought it, struck up an extraordinary friendship with the president of the US and won a favorable peace plan strikingly sympathetic to Israel’s security – should end up in jail is a tragedy for all Israelis. Historically, it is an important marker of democracies that (unlike dictatorships) national leaders finish out their lives in dignity and respect, even when they no longer hold power.
The present alternative to such an outcome – Netanyahu’s strategy to beat the charges – is worse. Break the system; undermine trust in legal institutions; erode the Supreme Court’s authority, especially the power to review legislation. All this puts the prime minister above the law. If this strategy succeeds it would be a greater tragedy for Israel’s democracy and for us.
Can we stop either tragedy from occurring?
Looking back, one sees the paradox in Netanyahu’s record. In actual governance, he shows restraint in his policies. In his drive to win elections and/or get reelected, he loses all controls. In office, he increased government spending to lift the Arab sector. To win office, he demonized Arabs and sought alliance with Kahanists and racists. He polarized politics by turning ‘leftists’ into a smear word, signifying ‘traitor’ or ‘soft on terrorism.’ To obtain positive media coverage and get reelected, he breached trust (Case 2000) and offered bribes (Case 4000).
This brings us to annexation. For more than 12 years, Netanyahu chose not to annex the settlements or other parts of the West Bank. He knew the cost of international standing, closing the door on normalization with Arab countries, undermining the Palestinian Authority while triggering violence and alienating most Jews in America was not worth the limited gain.
Now, to cement right-wing support for future elections and/or a showdown with the courts, he is pushing for annexation, whatever the cost. This includes recklessly risking the Jordanian and maybe Egyptian peace treaties, undermining Israel’s bipartisan support in America, unleashing a third intifada and giving credence to the mendacious stigma of Israel as an apartheid state.
Annexation is likely to generate a tragedy for Israel with tragic consequences for Netanyahu’s reputation in history. Actually, US President Donald Trump’s plan incentivizes the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table. If the prime minister delays annexation and carries the plan out faithfully, he may well win Palestinian and international acceptance of a land exchange and incorporating  the settlements into Israel.
How can we save Netanyahu and us from these looming tragedies?
The following proposal should be advanced by senior Likud ministers – but given their abdication of responsibility in the past, I turn to Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz as the most senior political leader who can make this happen. Gantz should gather his allies and make the following declaration.
‘I tried my best to remove Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister of Israel. I discovered that almost 50% of the Israeli public felt that he has accomplished so much as head of the government that they supported him despite all his flaws and bad behaviors. If he is convicted in a court of law, many, if not most of his supporters, will be permanently embittered and reject the legitimacy of the Israeli legal system. In my opinion, this could damage the courts which are an essential cornerstone of Israeli democracy.
‘Although I want to succeed Netanyahu as prime minister, I acknowledge he has accomplished much for the people of Israel. It would be a tragedy for all of us if the longest-serving prime minister in Israel’s history ended up in jail – even if he brought this on himself by his own behaviors.
‘I say the following to Benjamin Netanyahu. I will take on myself now – and after becoming prime minister – to approach the legal authorities and the courts and urge them to offer a plea deal that will involve no jail time. For the sake of re-knitting the fabric of unity of Israel’s population, it is worth making this exceptional offer. To restore the confidence of the Israeli public in the legal system, I will persistently pursue this outcome. I ask the prime minister cease defending himself by assaulting the reputation and integrity of Israel’s legal and police leaders and its courts. I give personal witness. Their integrity is clear to all. They have handled a difficult situation with professionalism while trying to uphold public morality and equality before the law.
‘I am not going back on my unity government agreement with Netanyahu. I pledge again to work with him with all my heart to better the state of Israel and benefit all Israelis. This includes working alongside him not to achieve a hasty one-sided annexation that could destabilize the region and alienate our allies. I will work with him for an annexation based on security concerns (such as the Jordan Valley defense line) in conjunction with our allies, including the Jordanians. We will engage the international community – including the US and its bipartisan support for Israel. Such an approach might well bring the Palestinians to the table so they accept a land swap that protects the settlements. The Trump plan even gives the Palestinians a chance for a demilitarized West Bank state that does not threaten Israel. Although it is unlikely, such an accomplishment could truly be a legacy that confirms the prime minister’s reputation for achievement, not destroys it.
‘I am not trying to remove Netanyahu from office with this approach. The pace of his case in court is such that he is likely to complete his pledged term before any decision is handed down. I am trying to get myself – and all of Israeli society – to rise above our anger and frustration and polarization and do what is best for the State of Israel.’
Note: Some will argue that Gantz cannot do this intervention and it could blow up the unity government. However, if Gantz can bring himself to say the above statement with integrity and genuine compassion, then, as the proverb goes, “words of truth are recognized” by people. The Israeli public will recognize the genuine concern for Netanyahu and for the greater good. This could be a turning point toward the less-polarized, more-unified climate of political expression in this country for which Gantz has passionately advocated. Up until now his pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
The writer is an American scholar, author and Modern Orthodox rabbi.