Reality check: Netanyahu’s cynical politics

Israel desperately needs a new leader.

Netanyahu at cabinet meeting (photo credit: REUTERS)
Netanyahu at cabinet meeting
(photo credit: REUTERS)
If a week is a long time in politics, as the astute former British prime minister Harold Wilson once said, then three months is an eternity. Between now and polling day, much can happen to change the dynamics of the campaign, but one thing is already clear: these elections will focus on one issue and one issue only, the suitability of Benjamin Netanyahu to lead this country.
There was no need for Netanyahu to pull the plug on his present coalition. The arguments surrounding the proposed law defining Israel as a Jewish state, zero VAT on starter homes for young couples and next year’s budget were not the make-or-break issues to bring down a government that had not even reached the half-way point of its term of office.
None of the parties inside the coalition, except perhaps for Bayit Yehudi, were anxious to face the electorate, and neither were there mass demonstrations in the center of Tel Aviv calling for this government’s resignation.
Even the speakers at the Peace Now/ Labor Party/Meretz rally outside the prime minister’s Jerusalem residence the weekend before last were only going through the motions when they called on Netanyahu to quit.
And yet, due to the deep strain of paranoia and hysteria that has marked Netanyahu’s whole political career – from his 1993 primetime TV admission of adultery because of an ungrounded fear he was about to be blackmailed by a political rival to last week’s totally unfounded claims of a putsch being organized against him – Netanyahu once again panicked and made, at least for himself, the wrong decision.
WHICH IS good news for the rest of the country. Netanyahu’s third term as prime minister gave Israel the worst government it its history and we should be grateful for its sudden and unexpected demise.
On the diplomatic front, Israel’s relations with the United States have hit an undisputed all-time low due to Netanyahu’s arrogant interference in America’s internal politics.
Over in Europe, countries are queuing up all over the continent to recognize an independent Palestinian state in protest at the breakdown in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians and Israel’s continued settlement activities in the West Bank and east Jerusalem as well as right-wing Knesset members’ attempts to change the status quo on the Temple Mount.
Far from providing security to Israel’s citizens, Netanyahu led a 50-day unresolved war against Hamas this summer that failed to defeat this terrorist group, cost an unprecedented amount of IDF soldiers’ lives and severely damaged the economy, as well as causing untold destruction in Gaza that will only serve to sow the seeds of future conflict.
In Jerusalem meanwhile, “the united capital” of Israel, Jews no longer automatically feel safe praying in their neighborhood synagogue.
Economically, this government has deliberately been a disaster. Netanyahu cynically maneuvered Yair Lapid into the finance ministry in order to set up the political neophyte to fail. Without the strong backing of the prime minister, no finance minister can ever succeed, and Netanyahu always turned a cold shoulder to Lapid, out of fear (it’s always fear that drives Netanyahu) that the Yesh Atid leader would be the person to succeed him as prime minister. During this government’s term, the central problems plaguing Israel’s economy – high cost of living, unaffordable housing, lack of competition and the stranglehold of the unions in key areas – have remained untouched.
SINCE THEIR dismissals, both Lapid and Hatnua’s Tzipi Livni have been quick to denounce Netanyahu in the most hostile terms, with Lapid even claiming that during this summer’s military campaign in Gaza, the cabinet lost faith in the prime minister’s ability to manage it. If that was the case, the question has to be asked why Lapid and Livni failed to act then, or why they remained seemingly content to continue serving under Netanyahu until the prime minister ditched them.
Israel desperately needs a new leader, but neither Lapid nor Livni fit the bill, having been tainted by their association with this past government. Instead, Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog may just prove to be the right man at the right time.
Herzog has the ministerial experience, political skills and social-democratic vision for the country that is so badly needed if Israel is going to stop itself descending into an authoritarian, religiously nationalistic country that is out of step with the rest of the developed world. And, unusually for a politician, Herzog is a person who drives consensus rather than foment division, which is exactly what the fractious center-left bloc needs if it is going to be able to form the next government.
The slogan “anybody but Netanyahu” certainly rings true, but the center-left also has to offer an alternative, and Herzog should be their choice.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.