The charade of soul-searching surrounding the Gilad Shalit deal staged by the forum of seven senior cabinet ministers revealed that it was in fact an unnecessary effort, and that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is virtually omnipotent and could have forced the passage of any resolution. We have not had such a strong prime minister in a long time.
FYI to the Americans, who like to think that Netanyahu wants to do the right thing but can't; as well as to the Europeans, the Arabs and especially the Israelis: There are no domestic politics in Israel now, because there is no one who poses a genuine threat to Netanyahu. He has no opposition, neither within his party nor without, neither parliamentary nor extra-parliamentary. His seat is safe.
Above all these words are addressed to Netanyahu himself, that master of intimidation and wizard of self-inflicted fear: You are much stronger than you think and than you project to others. Is that good for Israel? That depends on what Netanyahu really wants.
Even Israel's strongest leaders had to contend with vigorous opposition. David Ben-Gurion faced Menachem Begin, and even his own party gave him a hard time. Moshe Dayan had Yigal Allon, while Levi Eshkol had both of them as well as Ben-Gurion breathing down his neck. Begin and Yitzhak Shamir had Shimon Peres, and Peres and Yitzhak Rabin had each other. Even Ariel Sharon, "Arik, King of Israel" himself, had to face off against the Likud Central Committee and the rebels in the Knesset who forced him to break away and form Kadima.
So who's against Netanyahu? The field is totally empty. There is no opposition, and the prime minister can do what he wants. Likud is in his hands, with or without MKs Danny Danon and Tzipi Hotovely. Kadima is silent and in paralysis. Labor is not only in Bibi's coalition but is also in its death throes. Even the dreaded settlers have proved to be paper tigers. Their ludicrous photo-op protests against the West Bank construction freeze died as soon as they were included in the national priority map. And the hesder yeshivot surrendered their fight, unconditionally.
So who's a threat to our prime minister? Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom? Don't make us, or Bibi, laugh. Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon? Only the cowsheds of Kibbutz Grofit are waiting for him. Minister Benny Begin? They might find a place for him back at the Geological Survey of Israel. With Defense Minister Ehud Barak tucked into his pocket, with nowhere else to go; with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman threatening everyone in the world except for him; with Shas content with what it's got and with no force on Earth capable of extracting the Labor ministers from their seats, Netanyahu's road ahead is clear and secure.
Even his attempts to split Kadima and bring some of the Likud runaways - mostly the repeat offenders - back into the fold are superfluous. Why put any effort into it? United or divided, it is devoid of significance for Bibi. On top of all this are the pathological apathy of the public, the dearth of meaningful protest movements, the absence of a peace camp worthy of the name and the lack of figures of stature and influence - even outside of politics.
What's left is the media, but even it is no more than a nuisance. True, most of it isn't too well-disposed toward Netanyahu but it is less hostile to him now than in the past. Essentially the media cooperates with the government, any government. The outside world? Even it is showing less interest, intervening less, pressuring less, the United States included.
Bibi is King of Israel, and on the face of it that's great for him. Just as he effortlessly got away with his "two-states" speech and the construction freeze, he could have freed Gilad Shalit. He could take daring and courageous moves, lift the blockade on Gaza, sign a peace treaty with Syria, and even annex, as he would no doubt like to, more of the territories.
The sky is apparently the limit, but in reality the sky is much lower than it seems; it is limited by Netanyahu's aspirations and intentions. "Go in thy might," as God said to Joshua, but first you have to know where you want to get to.
Netanyahu's path is an easy one. It's been ages since an Israeli leader has had such a golden opportunity to act. But, lo and behold, it is precisely the prime minister who is perhaps the strongest in Israel's history who finds it difficult to make even one bold decision. Nine months in office, and zero. Dense clouds of deliberations, soul-searching, "historic" speeches, but not a drop of rain. How depressing.
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