2011, the Year of Netanyahu's Disappearing Act

Ultimately, the Arab world did not produce one liberal leader worthy of the name in the Arab Spring, but in the leadership wasteland of 2011, the disappointment called Barack Obama is especially pronounced.

Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit
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Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit

It has been an amazing year. It started with the Arab Spring, continued with the Israeli summer and ended with the fanatical winter. In January 2011 we expected the Arab nation to be freed of the tyrants subjugating it. In July 2011 we expected the Israeli majority to be freed of the minorities oppressing it. In December 2011 we realized we were facing an unprecedented outburst of Islamic fanaticism, Jewish-nationalist fanaticism and Jewish-ultra-Orthodox fanaticism.

In 11 months we went from the hope that a French Revolution would take place in the Middle East, to the hope that a social-democratic revolution would take place in Israel, to despair.

Much of the blame lies with us. The expectations were unfounded. We should have known from the start that Hosni Mubarak would not be replaced by the Google youth but by the Muslim Brotherhood. We should have known from the start that Daphni Leef's vision had limitations. We should have remembered that the real processes undermining us are the radicalization of the settlers and the strengthening of the ultra-Orthodox. The hopes we nurtured while change was flooding the Arab world and Israeli society were naive and childish. At the end of the year it's clear they've led to a dead end and disappointment.

But not all the blame lies with us. Ultimately, the Arab world did not produce one liberal leader worthy of the name. Ultimately, the Israeli social uprising did not generate a leadership or an agenda. In the long run, perhaps, student leader Itzik Shmuli will bring something unique to the public scene. But at the moment neither the Arab nor the Israeli protesters have suggested an alternative or an alternative leadership.

In the leadership wasteland of 2011 the disappointment called Barack Obama is especially pronounced. Obama's chances of being elected for a second term now appear good to excellent, but in the awakening and tumultuous Middle East, Obama has done very little. He took Mubarak's Egypt apart, but did not build a post-Mubarak Egypt. He spoke about Iran, but did not stop it. He played into the hands of Palestinian and Israeli extremists. In his actions and failures Obama paved the way for Islam to gain control over large parts of the Middle East.

The second disappointment is known - Benjamin Netanyahu. But this year Netanyahu outdid himself. The prime minister is not responsible for the events in the Arab world, but he did nothing in view of them - he didn't reach out to the Arab masses, he didn't sign an alliance with the regional leaders, he didn't initiate a peace plan.

And no less grievous, Netanyahu didn't lend a hand to the Israeli majority. First he scorned the protest, then toadied up to it and finally made a fool of it. Instead of applauding the creative, enlightened Israelis, Netanyahu once again betrayed them. He chose to remain in the bunker with the nationalists, the settlers and the ultra-Orthodox, who are buttressing his rule.

The third disappointment of 2011 is Manuel Trajtenberg. Unlike Obama and Netanyahu, Prof. Trajtenberg is a warm, intelligent, ideological and professional person. His appointment as the protest's executor created a once-in-a-generation opportunity. He was supposed to be the architect of a new and just social order. He was supposed to draft a treaty integrating the ultra-Orthodox and Arabs into society and the economy as people with equal rights and equal obligations. He was supposed to propose an Israeli reform that would compel the prime minister to adopt it - or fall.

But the man from academia aimed low. He nibbled a little at the defense budget and suggested a few limited changes, which are now evaporating. Instead of marching us to an Israeli New Deal, Trajtenberg served us another positive but unimportant Israeli deal.

The outgoing year has been fascinating, turbulent and dangerous. It uprooted mountains, moved tectonic plates and changed the world order. But in the end, the change 2011 proposed - disappointed. This was the year of the man who wasn't there. It was the year international and Israeli enlightenment found no enlightened leader. So kiss each other firmly on Saturday night. Drink, eat and love - as long as you still can.



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