The brief monologue that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered at the start of his press conference Thursday night sounded more like a brigade commander briefing his troops before a military operation than a prime minister addressing the nation. What didn’t it contain? It had ambushes, undercover soldiers, arrests, deep infiltration of East Jerusalem neighborhoods, demolitions of terrorists’ houses, the rules of engagement and descriptions of various other tactical steps being taken by the army and the police. Only one thing was missing – a strategy.
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The events of the past month are Netanyahu’s third round of violence with the Palestinians in the six and a half years since he returned to the Prime Minister’s Office in 2009. The first two centered on the Gaza Strip and the current one on the West Bank.
Yet this time, too, it seems that beyond the here and now, the prime minister doesn’t know where he wants to go or what he wants to achieve. At Thursday’s press conference, he didn’t offer Israel’s citizens anything except metal detectors, Ruger rifles, cameras and incursions into Palestinian towns. There was no goal, no vision of how he wants our relationship with the Palestinians to look at the end of his term.
Netanyahu claimed on Thursday that terror has accompanied the Zionist enterprise since its inception more than 100 years ago. He’s right. But the relevant time period with regard to him is the last six years.
During the vast majority of that time, the West Bank was extremely quiet, relatively speaking. Yet Netanyahu did nothing with those years of quiet to prevent a third intifada or, heaven forbid, seriously advance a diplomatic solution that would fit the “two states for two peoples” vision he presented in his speech at Bar-Ilan University in June 2009.
Netanyahu preferred the warm and cozy status quo. He opted for a policy of sitting quietly and doing nothing, believing that the stalemate and the lack of a diplomatic horizon could be maintained forever with no ramifications.
When the U.S. secretary of state warned of a third intifada, Netanyahu accused him of threatening Israel. When opposition leaders Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni warned of an explosion and urged him to advance the diplomatic process, he charged that they would bring the Islamic State to Jerusalem. Meanwhile, crazed murderers armed with knives are running riot through Israel’s capital on his watch.
So many of the things Netanyahu said on Thursday reflected his failure to deal with the threats in time even though he identified them clearly. For instance, he said there’s no need for “detonators” that will set the Temple Mount on fire. One of those detonators is Uri Ariel, now in his second term as a minister in Netanyahu’s government in the role of chief arsonist. Netanyahu knew very well how dangerous Ariel was, but until a few days ago, he did nothing to restrain him.
The same goes for the northern branch of the Islamic Movement, which Netanyahu said on Thursday that he wants to outlaw. Two years ago already, Netanyahu set up a special task force to consider how to deal with one of Israel’s most radical organizations. Since then, he has spoken about the subject several times and held numerous meetings. But he didn’t do anything. And we’ve seen the result over the last few weeks on the Temple Mount and in Lod and Jaffa.
To Netanyahu's benefit it should be noted that he is implementing a cautious policy. He is trying as much as possible to avoid any further escalation that could be caused by a wide-ranging military operation in the West Bank or a diplomatic escalation by expanding settlements. During his press conference, it was clear that the message by the Shin Bet and Israeli military that Palestinian President Abbas was part of the solution and not part of the problem had finally trickled into Netanyahu, even if belatedly.
But Netanyahu's comments on Thursday also served as testimony to what has yet to trickle into his understanding and that is that there is no military solution to the conflict with the Palestinians. You can bring the defense minister, the internal security minister, the IDF chief of staff and police chief together in a press conference, but that won't solve the problem. Even Israel's most elite security forces would only be able to block, stall, thwart and buy time. Without strategic decisions, diplomatic processes and giving the Palestinians hope there will be no way to overcome the despair that sparked this wave of terror.