Benjamin Netanyahu at his best and at his worst

I salute the Netanyahu of October 23, and boo that of October 29.

US PRESIDENT Donald Trump walks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed at the White House in Washington on September 15. (photo credit: REUTERS)
US PRESIDENT Donald Trump walks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed at the White House in Washington on September 15.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
For the first time in quite a while, I was really pleased with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It was on October 23, when US President Donald Trump, Netanyahu and the leaders of Sudan were on the phone together, on the occasion of the announcement of the agreement to be signed between Israel and Sudan.
Online, in real time, Trump was heard saying to Netanyahu: “Do you think Sleepy Joe could have made this deal Bibi?... Somehow I don’t think so.” Netanyahu hesitated for a few seconds and replied: “Well Mr. President, one thing I can tell you is we appreciate the help for peace from anyone in America, and we appreciate what you’ve done enormously.” He then added a less elegantly worded sentence: “This will be registered in the books, the history books. The history registers who did what. I think it does.”
Nevertheless, Netanyahu’s reply was certainly an example of his ability to process complicated situations, and come up with the right words to tackle them instantly, causing minimal collateral damage – in this case disappointment on the part of Trump, who was apparently expecting a different response from his buddy Bibi.
Netanyahu’s response was also incredible because no one suspects that he wants to see the Biden-Harris pair enter the White House come January, and the fact that Trump is undoubtedly right in assuming that a Democratic administration will not place so much (or any) effort into a peace process between Israel and the Arab world that leaves the primary cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict – the Palestinians – on the sidelines, bleeding and emotionally hurt.
Trump has not chosen to push for agreements between Israel and Arab countries that are on the periphery of the conflict because he really believes that this will bring lasting peace to the Middle East, but because he needs some feathers in his foreign policy cap, which is currently adorned by the tatters of numerous international agreements he broke, and of the world order which the United States itself had masterminded at the end of the Second World War. A Nobel Prize for peace would also be welcome.
Though Netanyahu favors the current agreements with peripheral Arab states because he is not required to pay for them with territory, they are certain to be financially lucrative not only to the US but to Israel as well, and he can add them to his “legacy,” his concern about the return of a Democratic administration goes way beyond this. Netanyahu knows that there are good chances that he will wake up on Wednesday morning with the news that Joe Biden will be America’s 46th president, and that referring to the next president as “sleepy Joe” is not the right thing to do.
In any case Israel’s relations with the Democratic Party have seen better days, due to Netanyahu’s slights against Obama toward the end of the latter’s presidency, and his overly close relations with Trump, so his instinctive response to the trap Trump placed before him was nothing short of brilliant.
I keep wondering what Netanyahu really thinks of Trump, beyond gratitude for such acts as leaving the nuclear agreement with Iran, moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, and now agreements with the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan. What does he think of Trump’s 80-90 minute rambling speeches at election rallies, next to the parked Air Force One, where he tells incredible lies (e.g., how the wall between the US and Mexico is almost complete and being paid for by Mexico; how the US is just around the corner from recovery from the “Chinese plague”; that a Biden administration would turn the US into a Communist state like Venezuela; and so on), slanders his rivals, and generally behaves like a rabble-rouser rather than a presidential candidate? What does he – who takes scientific facts seriously – think of Trump’s attitude to the COVID-19 pandemic and to global warming and climate change?
There are quite a few similarities between Trump and Netanyahu, such as narcissism, authoritarian inclinations, contempt for democratic norms of government and the rule of law (especially when it comes to themselves). Both lie much more frequently and matter-of-factly than do most other political leaders (though Netanyahu’s lies are usually less outrageous than Trump’s). Both detest the free media, the liberal and socialist Left in general and human rights activists in particular, while ranting about “fake news.” And both thrive on incitement, and on deliberately increasing schisms in the divided societies of their respective states.
However, where they differ is in the fact that Netanyahu is highly intelligent and knowledgeable, while Trump is a boorish ignoramus. Furthermore, Netanyahu respects science, while Trump has nothing but contempt for it.
The telephone conversation mentioned at the outset proves that Netanyahu has much more discretion than does his American counterpart, even though his discretionary faculties are not always as sharp as they were on October 23.
On October 29, during the annual memorial service for assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in the Knesset plenum, Netanyahu demonstrated his propensity for self-centered insensitivity. Instead of concentrating on the specific assassination of Rabin, which he himself did not actively encourage 25 years ago as leader of the opposition, but which he did not try to discourage beyond once telling an incited crowd that Rabin was undoubtedly wrong but certainly not a traitor, Netanyahu opened his speech by talking about threats to the lives of himself and his family, which, according to him, almost nobody condemns.
Netanyahu must certainly know that had Rabin enjoyed the sort of security arrangements that he himself and his family enjoy, he would probably have lived to a ripe old age. Netanyahu must also know that the security around him is prepared for every conceivable contingency. Every threat against Netanyahu and his family (which should certainly be condemned, as should threats to anyone’s life, for whatever reason) are looked into by the authorized authorities, and the necessary precautions are taken. So far not a single serious threat has been reported.
At the same time, we have not heard Netanyahu condemn right-wingers who physically attack groups and individuals who legally demonstrate against him and call for his resignation - attacks that feed on incitement by Netanyahu himself, his son Yair, and several Likud ministers and senior Likud MKs, against the “left-wing anarchists,” “spreaders of disease,” and “those who have plotted to bring false criminal charges against an innocent right-wing prime minister, because they cannot oust him by means of the ballot box.”
The danger at the moment is not that another prime minster, or some other senior politician, might be assassinated, but that random demonstrators, certain marked journalists, as well as some members of the judiciary and of the State Attorney’s Office might be murdered.
If Netanyahu could not bring himself to focus on Rabin and his assassination on his memorial day, at least he should have said something about the atmosphere of violence in the society that does not pose a real threat to him personally, but to all those who are critical of him, or whose job it is to see that he is brought to justice and given a fair trial.
I salute the Netanyahu of October 23, and boo that of October 29.