The sharp-eyed have undoubtedly noticed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s face is not what it used to be. In contrast to his first term, he rarely puts on makeup now, as he did back then, to look good and project determination in the face of the cameras lurking for him. His lust for publicity seems to have abated. He is no longer invited to summits abroad, and he himself makes no great effort to travel.
These days, as the region surrounding us burns, Netanyahu is not giving off the impression that there is a leader in Israel. He is losing ground in the polls, though at least he’s in better shape than Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who does not have enough seats to enter the Knesset. His new Atzmaut party, which was supposed to be a life preserver for both Bibi and Barak, has instead become their burden.
After a lengthy period of quiet on the part of the leaders, Barak finally broke the silence when he was interviewed by Yaron Dekel on Israel Radio. The defense minister’s ability as a commentator is indisputable; after all, this was how he was able to feather his nest, or more accurately, his nests. But that’s no substitute for the policy or strategic planning required of a prime minister.
As the halfway point in his term approaches, Netanyahu is starting to understand that he is not in a good situation. On one side, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is on his tail, and on the other he is threatened by domestic terror not to give in (without going into detail here about what and who we mean). According to one realistic political observer, the prime minister is his own captive, lacking a clear sense of which way to move. There is not one arena in which is he not entangled: He’s even lost control of his bureau and the power to select his aides. “He is coasting in Freilauf,” the observer says − meaning freewheeling, like when you lose the chain on your bicycle.
A well-known jurist who worked closely with previous prime ministers maintains that the current paralysis stems from Netanyahu’s political or family fears. I’m not familiar with what goes on inside the home of the prime minister and his wife, but it’s interesting that those in the know repeatedly mention this component when speaking about the absence of worthy appointments in the Prime Minister’s Bureau.
Netanyahu’s face reflects Israel’s situation in the world community. It’s not that he doesn’t know the circumstances are bad; he’s no fool. He has even asked ministers and members of his party to be careful about what they say. “You have no idea of the political situation we are in, Israel is in a very serious international predicament,” he tells them.
But where does that get us? What is he doing? He evacuates one settler outpost by force, but meanwhile orders Barak to promote additional building in the West Bank? And what is German Chancellor Angela Merkel supposed to think when Netanyahu assures her he’s working on a new plan, a kind of “Bar-Ilan 2,” when the first Bar-Ilan speech produced no results?
The prime minister’s working environment projects pessimism, or even worse: an absence of creativity. When it was suggested that he agree to the Saudi initiative as the basis for an agreement with the Palestinians, his response was, “Have you gone crazy?”
Netanyahu doesn’t want to hear about any initiative. American-Israeli relations are hanging by a thread in the wake of the UN veto U.S. President Barack Obama was compelled to cast to spare Israel the shame.
And the person making his life miserable at the same time is not Obama but Lieberman, who is turning him into a laughing stock.
Not only by uttering polar-opposite policy pronouncements, not only by making or canceling diplomatic appointments, but by threatening his political survival. The foreign minister is a long-distance runner. If he escapes indictment, he will strive to prove that Netanyahu is unworthy and will fight for the premiership.
Following Barak’s radio interview, Maj. Gen. (res.) Danny Rothschild said the government does not have a long-term strategy. Instead of presenting some kind of judicious initiative, Netanyahu is caught in a trap of political survival. And then we cry about the whole world being against us. “This is precisely the moment to go to Obama and do something bold,” Rothschild says.
We are the ones who must pick up the gauntlet. The quiet in the West Bank will not last forever. There, too, the leadership is not meeting the people’s expectations. And when you don’t move forward, falling backward is unavoidable.
The prime minister’s confidants say he is immersed in the Iranian threat. If that is really the truth, and let’s say it’s a real agenda, how many hours a day does it occupy him? The truth is that at this tempestuous time there is no leader in Israel. Or, as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan undoubtedly sums up the situation here in his cabinet meetings, Bibi yok.
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