Netanyahu cares about one thing and one thing only - himself

The good of the country is forsaken for the political fortunes of the few, and Bibi hasn't helped.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomes the first shipment of Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine to Ben-Gurion Airport, Israel, December 9, 2020 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomes the first shipment of Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine to Ben-Gurion Airport, Israel, December 9, 2020
It was a classic Israeli split-screen moment. On one side were the images from Morocco, where an Israeli-American delegation led by National Security Council chief Meir Ben-Shabbat and White House adviser Jared Kushner were at the Royal Palace meeting with King Mohammed VI, as part of an historic trip to normalize relations.
At the same time, some 6,000 kilometers away, the screen was showing fighting in the Knesset. The clock was ticking toward its dispersal after the dysfunctional Netanyahu-Gantz government failed to pass a budget by the mandated deadline. Israel was heading to a fourth election in two years.
The two scenes were so far removed from one another, yet also so close. In Rabat, the government was making peace and planting another pillar of stability in the Middle East. Back home, it was actively and consciously doing the opposite.
This has been Israel’s story throughout the last two years of political upheaval and never-ending elections. The good of the country is forsaken for the political fortunes of the few: politics before pandemic, dysfunctionality before stability.
That the country has managed to forge peace deals during this period is a major achievement in itself, considering that everything else this government touches breaks. The cabinet rarely meets, and when it does, all the ministers accomplish is to fight. Coronavirus strategy constantly changes, sometimes by the hour, and political mudslinging rarely takes a break.
This should not really be a surprise. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu excels when he works alone. The normalization deals that he reached with Bahrain, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates did not require him to work with anyone in Israel. He did them on his own, even while keeping his own defense and foreign ministers in the dark.
When he works alone, he succeeds. He got the peace deals done, and paved the way for Israel to receive large quantities of COVID vaccines and roll them out, putting the country on a path to have over a million people inoculated by the middle of January. For both of these accomplishments he deserves credit as well as our gratitude.
On the other hand, when Netanyahu needs to work with partners, he fails. That is why Israel’s management of the corona crisis looks the way it does, and why almost every other large-scale project promoted under his tenure suffers at one point or another from mismanagement (think Jerusalem-Tel Aviv fast train, Tel Aviv light rail, outsourcing ports to China, and more).
The coronavirus revealed to the public what many people who had worked with Netanyahu claimed for years: the prime minister is a bad manager. Large challenges that require a multidisciplinary approach and the integration and coordination of multiple ministries is something he is just not good at.
Part of the reason is because he is not interested in going into the detail that is needed to coordinate wide-scale processes. The other reason is that he can’t share credit – and if he were to coordinate work with someone he would have to share the credit with them, and that is something that he cannot let happen.
It is exactly for these reasons that Netanyahu tried from the beginning to undermine the unity government he established with Gantz. Having a partner in government means working together, coordinating and sharing the credit for the successes and the failures. It was never going to happen.
So even though he promised no tricks, tricks were exactly what he gave Gantz from the outset. And this has to be said: Netanyahu is the person responsible for the dispersion of the Knesset and Israel going to an election once again. He refused to bring a budget for a vote, and refused to abide by the agreement that he himself signed back in April.
I have written this before but it is important to keep repeating, because Netanyahu has no shame lying. On Tuesday night he spoke at the Knesset and claimed that it was not him but Gantz who had violated the coalition agreement, and that a “dictatorship of left-wing bureaucrats” led by Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn was trying to overthrow him.
Not only are these lies, they are also dangerous lies. What Netanyahu is trying to do is undermine and weaken all of Israel’s democratic institutions, as part of a campaign to deter the judiciary system from doing its job to pursue justice in the three criminal cases against the prime minister.
There is also another objective: to keep the nation’s attention focused on him. Netanyahu wants people thinking about the question that has been at the core of the last three elections and seems likely to again at the end of March: are you for Bibi or are you against Bibi? Only Bibi? Or anyone but Bibi?
By keeping people focused on these questions, they are focused on him, and when they are focused on him, the thinking goes, they will vote for him. That is how Netanyahu keeps Likud at 27 and 28 seats in the latest polls, staying the largest party in an increasingly crowded field – especially on the Right.
This is important because if people are going to vote based on policy, there is a chance Netanyahu could bleed voters. His poor management of the coronavirus crisis, his pursuit of an NIS 1 million tax break in the Knesset at a time when one million Israelis are unemployed, and his ongoing bribery trial are all reasons people could use to not vote for him. By making up stories about bureaucratic dictatorships, and claiming that Naftali Bennett and Gideon Sa’ar are leftists when they are more right-wing than he, Netanyahu stays in the game and hopes to at least retain his primary constituents.
While Netanyahu would of course prefer to secure a decisive victory in the coming election, he would suffice simply denying someone else from winning, thereby staying on as interim prime minister while standing trial from his lofty and influential position.
The situation is sad. It is sad that Israel is once again entering a period of political instability; sad that we will see some of the ugliest political campaigns in our history; and sad that Netanyahu did not have the foresight to see where this all was going, and find a way to gracefully step down beforehand.
In the end, this is what the last two years have all been about: first Netanyahu trying to avoid an indictment, and now trying to avoid a criminal trial. Everything he has done and continues to do is with this in mind. Three elections, the unity government with Gantz, the refusal to pass a budget, and the whole way he put himself at the front of the fight against coronavirus from the beginning. Everything is about political survival.
Even now, with the closure scheduled to go into effect on Sunday, there are political considerations. Netanyahu wants an immediate shutdown so that by the time Israelis go to the polls, the infection rate will have dramatically dropped. Moreover, some two million Israelis are expected to receive the coronavirus vaccines by March 23rd so the health and economic situation will have dramatically improved – as well as his chance of winning.
Does this mean that he does not deserve credit for organizing the swift delivery of vaccines? No. He does. But they are separate. We can appreciate what he did while at the same time call him out for what he really is: a politician focused today on one thing and one thing only. Himself.