20.02.2024 Author: Alexandr Svaranc

Netanyahu: losing or gaining power?


The political fate of the leader of any democratic state from the moment of coming to power always remains under the threat of resignation. The latter is naturally connected, of course, with the domestic and foreign policies he pursues, and in some cases with the “dark spots” of his personal biography.

Modern Israel, being an organic part of the Middle East, is strikingly different from the political culture of its neighbours in the region. Israel is distinguished from other Middle Eastern states (as well as from the rest of the world) not only by the religion of Judaism practised by Jews, while the rest of the Middle East, in its overwhelming majority, is the world of Islam, but also by the actual European culture.

Israel, created as a result of the two world wars of the twentieth century, was the achievement of the programme-maximum of the World Zionist Organisation, the interests of world Jewry and the state of Jewish repatriates. And together with the repatriation of the Jewish political class and population from different countries (first of all, the leading states of the West and the East), the multiculture of the countries of residence of the Jewish Diaspora and Jewish capital was exported to Israel. Accordingly, the foreign policy orientation of the State of Israel in favour of the developed Western countries led by the USA and Great Britain during the Cold War of the 20th century led to the establishment of Western political subculture and the principles of democracy in the electoral system in the Jewish state.

Assessing the experience of formation and development of the internal political struggle for power in Israel, one can conditionally and actually distinguish two main forces:

1) supporters of a hard-nationalist course towards the Palestinians and the occupied Arab territories (conventionally the “war party” of Zionists – in the past Herut, now Likud);

2) supporters of the liberal course, advocating the cessation of periodic wars with the Arabs and favouring a peace agenda for negotiations (conventionally the “peace party” – in the past “Mapai”, now ” HaAvoda “).

The embodiment of Jewish radical patriotism is usually considered to be a whole pleiad of prominent state and political figures in Israel (first of all, David Ben-Gurion, Isser Harel, Golda Meer, Menachem Begin, Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Shamir, Ariel Sharon, etc.). Benjamin Netanyahu belongs to the representatives of the radical wing of Israeli political life and represents the Zionist party “Likud”, whose ascent to the top of power and rule dates back to the end of the twentieth century and the first quarter of the twenty-first century.

B. Netanyahu is the first Prime Minister of Israel born in an independent Jewish state. His father Benzion Netanyahu (Mileikowsky) was a Polish-born history professor. His older brother, Yonatan Netanyahu (named after his grandfather, a rabbi and Zionist preacher) is an Israeli national hero who died during the liberation of the Israeli hostages at Entebbe.

Netanyahu has had a long political career and in different years headed a number of ministries – Defence, Justice, Finance, Foreign Affairs, Construction, Science, Culture and Sports, Communications, Diaspora, Religious Affairs, as well as a member of the Knesset and leader of the Likud Party. He has had a brilliant diplomatic career (Israeli Consul General to the US, Ambassador to the UN, Deputy Foreign Minister and Foreign Minister). He headed the government of Israel three times.

For the first time, B. Netanyahu, representing the Likud party, was elected Prime Minister of the country not by the Knesset, but in direct elections in 1996, where he defeated an experienced influential rival, Shimon Peres. The latter was due to a dramatic change in public mood due to a series of Palestinian terrorist attacks prior to the elections on 3 and 4 March 1996, which killed 32 Israelis. Bibi pursued a tough course towards the Palestinians and the occupied territories. However, in 1999 Netanyahu failed in the elections and lost the prime minister’s chair to General Ehud Barak of the HaAvoda party, whose rule was relatively short-lived because in 2001 the Likud party returned to power in Israel, but already led by the experienced politician Ariel Sharon. As is well known, in 2006 he was replaced by Ehud Olmert from the Kadima party (a wing of the Likud party, which split off from the Likud party in 2005, headed by A. Sharon).

Netanyahu came to power for the second time in 2009, replacing the government of Ehud Olmert, and remained Prime Minister until 2021. The loss of power in March 2021 in favour of Naftali Benet (Yamin Party) and Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid Party) was short-lived because on November 3, 2022, Bibi regained success and headed the government of Israel for the third time.

A major Soviet (Russian) orientalist and statesman E.M. Primakov, referring to the political assessment of B. Netanyahu, noted. Netanyahu, noted that “he is undoubtedly an ardent defender of Israel’s interests”. In principle, every head of state should fulfil this criterion. However, fiercely defending the interests of Israel, Bibi distinguished himself by inadequate attitude to the problems of the Palestinians and, obviously, made many mistakes in his activities.

Already after the events of 7 October, it became clear to many in Israel and abroad (including in the United States) that Netanyahu’s bet on Hamas in the Gaza Strip against Fatah in the West Bank was not justified. In principle, Netanyahu had previously opposed the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza, supported the establishment of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and ruled out any form of Palestinian independence. Bibi only partially allowed for the formation of an independent Palestinian state, provided that Palestine was demilitarised and stripped of its armed forces, and that Israel and its right to security were recognised by key countries in the Arab East.

Such a policy did not contribute to the political settlement of Palestinian-Israeli relations, and the next war started by Hamas was a consequence of Israeli apartheid. However, almost four months of war in the Gaza Strip and disproportionate strikes by the Israeli army have significantly undermined the credibility of both Prime Minister B. Netanyahu and Israel itself on the world stage.

Meanwhile, the issue of the exchange of hostages and prisoners remains high on the agenda of the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. In Israel, there are growing forms of protest and demands for the resignation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as the authorities are still unable to resolve the issue of the release of all hostages.

In November, Yair Lapid called for Netanyahu’s resignation because he has lost the trust of Israelis, the international community and his own intelligence services. According to Al Jazeera, citing the Haaretz newspaper, nine former high-ranking officials (including former Defence Forces Commanders Moshe Ya’alon and Dan Halutz) have filed a petition with the Israeli Supreme Court demanding that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be indicted because he is motivated by personal interests rather than the interests of the country, the public or the hostages in Gaza and their families.

In the current situation, Netanyahu continues to reject the peace agenda, deny any form of recognition of the independence of the Palestinian state, and advocate a war to a victorious end, without realising the content of a real victory. Such a position of the Israeli leader is obviously dissonant with the opinion of the main allies – the US and the UK, whose foreign policy departments have already publicly declared the admissibility of recognising Palestinian independence and the search for acceptable forms (acceptable options). The latter apparently means a hint at some truncated format for the existence of a Palestinian state (e.g., complete demilitarisation of the new entity, establishment of a mandate and control by an international coalition, disputed administrative-territorial borders, etc.).

Meanwhile, internal pressure on Netanyahu is forcing him to seek a truce with the same Hamas. The talks of the special services in Paris seem to keep hope for the Palestinians’ agreement to the beginning of a new 6-week “humanitarian pause”. There is information in the media that Hamas demands from Tel Aviv the release of 150 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for each Israeli female soldier.

Benjamin Netanyahu said in a meeting with relatives of captives that Israel is continuing efforts to return hostages held in the blockaded Gaza Strip. The intelligence services will take secret actions without publicising the circumstances in order to achieve a positive result. Specifically, Bibi said, “We are making every effort, but the more these efforts become public, the less they produce results. The more secretive these efforts are, the more likely they are to succeed.”

In principle, the intelligence services, whose professional duty it is to free hostages, always use secret methods and forms of activity in such operations. And in this regard, Netanyahu said nothing new to his citizens. Another thing is that the four-month-long war with the victory speeches of official Israel has not yet led to the release of all the hostages.

Tel Aviv periodically declares successful military and special operations in the Gaza Strip (almost 40% of the destroyed underground communications, 300 thousand destroyed buildings, military control of the northern part of the enclave, elimination of political and military functionaries of Hamas, etc.). However, from these reports the hostages are not returned, the Palestinians somehow manage to rescue and hide them.

Thus, the hostages are only part of the issues that need to be resolved in order to establish a peaceful life in the region. But if Netanyahu remains on course to continue the long war, then in the process the topic of his resignation is also relevant. The phenomenon of Netanyahu’s rule is related not only to his record time in power, but also to his demonstration of a consistency of hard-line policies, destabilisation and wars (including those far outside Israel, but with military and technical support from Tel Aviv). Bibi is betting on the internationalisation of the military conflict from local to regional, and he is also a supporter of the US involvement in a major war against Iran and the broad destabilisation of the military situation along the entire perimeter of the Islamic Republic of Iran borders.

However, the administration of US President Joseph Biden and Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei do not want a direct military clash between the US and Iran. Therefore, Netanyahu’s plans may remain a dream of an Israeli politician for the time being, which does not guarantee him “eternal rule”. In the current situation, a factor in strengthening Benjamin Netanyahu’s position and power may be a victorious war against Hamas, which is dragging on and remains unknown.


Alexander SVARANTS – PhD of Political Science, Professor, especially for the online magazine «New Eastern Outlook»

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