Israel's Summer of Discontent

A leader with no peace agreement, social action or internal reform in his portfolio is a leader on borrowed time.

Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit
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Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit

First the agenda was peace. Two and a half months after becoming prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu adopted the idea of dividing the land into two nation-states - Jewish and Palestinian. But due to his idleness, the Americans' naivete and the Palestinians' arrogance, nothing really happened.

Nada. All we have are tens of thousands more settlers, more unnecessary neighborhoods and more illegal outposts. The orator of Bar-Ilan undertook to advance us toward peace, but didn't take one step forward. The university in Ariel and former Supreme Court Justice Edmond Levy's "no occupation" report are the last nails in the coffin of the faint hope for peace that Bibi briefly awakened.

Then the agenda was social. A few weeks after the big protest of summer 2011 began, Netanyahu heeded the outcry of the million demonstrators and set up the Trajtenberg committee. The appointment of the economics professor and his team of experts had symbolic and practical significance. It reflected a conservative prime minister's understanding that he must step out of the neoliberal box he had lived in most his life.

But already in the autumn it turned out the prime minister wasn't really capable of getting out of the box. He may have promoted a number of the reforms Trajtenberg recommended. He even led a few quasi-social, quasi-populist moves. But he didn't deal with the housing problem and didn't reduce inequality. Netanyahu didn't present an overall socioeconomic vision or put together an Israeli New Deal. He didn't turn our economy into a fast-growing one and our society into a just one.

Then the agenda was anti-ultra-Orthodox. The High Court of Justice's decision on the Tal Law required the government to redefine the relationship between mainstream Israeli society and the non-serving, not-sufficiently-productive minorities. A broad coalition of benign and non-benign forces turned the age-old theme of equality in bearing the burden into a hot issue. When Netanyahu realized that a big fire was burning under the cabinet's windows, he hastened to adopt MK Yohanan Plesner's principles on the draft and pledged to achieve a historic change.

But in days the Likud leader changed his mind. The fear of a Haredi counterattack and the loss of traditional support bases made him flinch and stutter. Thus he missed the great chance embodied in the secular unity government. He missed a one-time opportunity to push through a genuine historic reform.

Haaretz editor Aluf Benn wrote recently that the secret of Netanyahu's survival in his second term lies in taking over his rivals' agendas. He neutralized opposition leader Tzipi Livni with his Bar-Ilan speech and neutralized protest leader Daphni Leef with Trajtenberg. Now he tried to neutralize the sucker reservists by tapping Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon and Plesner to solve the draft issue.

In a complete reversal of his old self, the new Netanyahu avoids head-on ideological confrontations and adjusts to fashionable trends. Time and again he adopts his rivals' ideas without carrying them out or taking them all the way. This is how he sustains his government's stability and preserves a statesmanlike image. This is how he survives.

But now, when the 18th Knesset is starting to evaporate, Netanyahu's advantage is turning into a disadvantage. True, he has blurred and dimmed the national agenda. He has staged several productions of quasi-action and imminent change.

But in the end, what remains? With what will he stand before his voters? A leader with no peace agreement, social action or internal reform in his portfolio is a leader on borrowed time. His present may look firm, but his future is shrouded in a deep fog of discontent and lack of hope.

Benjamin NetanyahuCredit: Olivier Fitoussi



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