20.04.2024 Author: Viktor Mikhin

Israel: what the future holds for Netanyahu

Israel: what the future holds for Netanyahu

For the past 14 months, large numbers of Israeli demonstrators have been gathering to demand the removal of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Initially, the protests were aimed at defending the independence of Israel’s judiciary, but after the Hamas attack on 7 October, they began to demand that Netanyahu be held accountable for everything that has happened since that sad day for Israelis. The general consensus in the country is that Netanyahu will be unceremoniously sent into retirement at some point in the coming weeks or months. Many believe his next stop will be prison, given the serious corruption and bribery charges against him. If that happens, it will be a brutal fall for the longest-serving prime minister in Israeli history.

But as usual, it turns out that it’s not so easy to send Netanyahu into retirement. As the Haaretz newspaper wrote, he has no sense of shame, embarrassment or apology to the Israeli people.

It was he who presided over the greatest security failure in Israel’s modern history, perhaps since October 1973. Bibi hasn’t even apologised for it.  But he has tried to blame the security services for the atrocities, claiming that their officers failed to warn him about their methods. It is doubtful that he is overly concerned about the ongoing protests that have marred his recent premiership. Many in his Likud party, no doubt with his approval, have turned against the protesters. One Likud member of the Knesset, Tally Gotliv, could think of nothing better than to compare them to “terrorists”.

Staying in power, or at least in office, has always meant more to Netanyahu than developing a serious vision for Israel’s future. Even driving the Palestinians to exhaustion in Gaza and accusing Israel of genocide has not shaken his belief that he is right. He is also prepared, to the great dismay of many Israelis, to jeopardise the strategic relationship with the US, which has actively defended Israel, especially since 1967.

Netanyahu once earned the nickname “Mr Security” in his country. But even before 7 October, he had failed in the eyes of many Israelis. “Hezbollah has built up an impressive arsenal in Lebanon, constantly threatening northern Israel. And despite Bibi’s best efforts, Iran is now much closer to obtaining nuclear weapons (according to Israelis), and its influence has spread widely across the Middle East. Hamas in Gaza has apparently dramatically increased its military capabilities, which has come as a shock even to the Israeli security services. As for the West Bank, Netanyahu has lost control of the settlement movement and much of it has been taken over by even more extremist groups led by the right-wingers Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir. The inclusion of these two extremists in the government coalition was a disastrous move, according to politicians. Netanyahu legitimised extremist groups and politicians who had been outlawed in the past and brought their representatives into his team. But these extremist Israelis and their representatives, who have taken over key ministries, are unlikely to help ensure Israel’s true security.

Netanyahu has developed a very aggressive and out-of-touch view of Israel’s security. He relies entirely on force to deal with the Palestinians and is still strongly opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state. But occupying Gaza and turning it into a giant car park full of potholes and a mass graveyard of Palestinians will not bring real security to Israelis or to Israel itself. For every Hamas fighter killed, new generations will seek revenge.

It is a distorted view of the world that sees negotiating with an opponent or enemy as weakness. Netanyahu has never believed in negotiating with the Palestinians or engaging with the Palestinian nationalist movement. That is why he opposed the Oslo Accords. Like Ariel Sharon before him, he has done everything possible to weaken the Palestinians by force. He virtually froze diplomatic relations with the Palestinian Authority and did everything to undermine its position in Palestinian society.

Netanyahu is rapidly losing popularity as most Israelis want early elections. Only about a quarter of Israelis trust him, and his leading opponent, Benny Gantz, who won endorsements in Washington and London during his visit there, is well ahead. But polls show that the Prime Minister’s hawkish policies are still popular among Israelis. Some 87 per cent believe the Palestinian death toll of more than 33,000 is justified. 43 per cent think Israel is acting too restrained and should use more force.

Given that Israelis, including many on the right of the political spectrum, can’t trust Netanyahu, is it any wonder that many world leaders didn’t either? Bill Clinton famously shunned Netanyahu. Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy were once heard at the microphone discussing how fed up they were with him. President Joe Biden didn’t even invite Israel’s prime minister to the White House after his election victory. The bilateral meeting didn’t take place until September 2023, nine months after Netanyahu returned to power. Even then, it was not held at the White House, but in New York. Many other world leaders are wary of Netanyahu’s overly “warm” embrace.

As the Haaretz newspaper wrote, there are many questions to be asked of the Prime Minister. And it asks a number of such questions: what has kept him in office for so long? Is he just lucky to have such a pathetically weak opposition? Is he a political wizard or the walking dead? It’s unclear, but he is undoubtedly the outstanding Israeli politician of his generation, the paper believes. He is not a great strategist, and when Israelis look back on his era, they will find it difficult to single out his amazing achievements. His longevity is based on an understanding of the basics and fundamentals of how to position himself and how to deprive his opponents of attention and diminish their credibility. Above all, he never showed insecurity and, as he liked to say, he is the only Israeli politician who knows how to say the word “no” to the US.

A new, but apparently not the last, crime of Netanyahu is his decision to launch a missile attack on the diplomatic quarter in Damascus where the Iranian embassy complex is located. As a result, the Islamic Republic’s consulate was destroyed and, according to Syrian media, at least 13 people were killed. Many countries, including Russia, condemned the attack as an act of terrorism. And it could not have been otherwise: missiles from Israeli warplanes illegally destroyed the Iranian diplomatic consulate. At the initiative of Russia, the UN Security Council held a meeting on the Israeli attack on Iranian diplomatic property in Syria. Almost all members of the Security Council agreed that the attacks on diplomatic facilities were unjustifiable because they were a flagrant violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

But sooner or later, Netanyahu will leave the political scene for good. That day may not come soon enough. However, and many agree, his legacy will live on, and the ultra-nationalist vision of a “Greater Israel” actively supported by the settlers will persist. On the Israeli political side of this conflict – certainly the Palestinian Authority also needs an overhaul – it will take more than the departure of one man to move the odds towards peace. A fresh and bold approach is needed. It is hard to imagine that it can emerge from the rubble of Israeli atrocities in Gaza. Sooner or later, negotiations are needed with all parties concerned and their interests respected. This is now an axiom of political life in today’s multipolar world.


Victor MIKHIN, Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, especially for online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

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