Even if Netanyahu Agrees to a Deal, Likud Is Unlikely to Back Him

Netanyahu’s leadership style, based on fanning fear and hatred, is at least partially responsible for the current character of Likud as an extremist, right-wing party.

Carlo Strenger
Carlo Strenger
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Carlo Strenger
Carlo Strenger

There are many indications that Netanyahu has made a discovery comparable only to Columbus’ discovery of America: in order to survive as the democratic homeland of the Jewish people, Israel needs to end the occupation of the West Bank. I say this not only based on his public pronunciations, but after conversations with sources I deem both trustworthy and knowledgeable, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

It takes a man of truly staggering brilliance to come to this conclusion. In a flash of insight, Netanyahu saw that Israel couldn’t maintain its Jewish character and remain a democracy if there is virtual parity between the Jewish and Palestinian populations. Furthermore, his keen intellect realized that the Western world has not accepted and will not accept Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank.

With the eye of a hawk, he began to see that Israel’s economy and international standing are gravely endangered by the occupation, and that the European Union means business in saying that it will no longer cooperate with Israeli institutions that are active in the West Bank. He also realized that the United States was not Israel’s servant but actually has views of its own, even though it took him some decades to come to this spectacular conclusion.

This flash of insight shows that Netanyahu truly is the Israeli Churchill: a man who sees far into the future and has both spectacular foresight and amazing strategic depth.

He did, admittedly, get a little help. There were all kinds of dwarves who warned of the dangers of the occupation. Some of them, like Amos Oz and Yeshayahu Leibowitz, said so very soon after the Six Day War in 1967. Others, like Shimon Peres and Rabin, came to that conclusion in the early 1990s. And there were some minor figures, like the six former chiefs of the Shin Bet interviewed in the documentary The Gatekeepers – not to speak of all those bothersome intellectuals like A.B. Yehoshua, David Grossman and Zeev Sternhell, who simply couldn’t stop pointing out that the occupation was Israel’s catastrophe.

In the past, these bloody leftists were a pain in Bibi’s neck, and he used to complain that Israel’s elites never gave him a chance. Well, at this point in his life and career these leftist elites are no longer Bibi’s problem; he will probably yearn for the times when all he had to complain about were these bothersome liberals.

Netanyahu now faces a much bigger problem. The overwhelming majority of his own party doesn’t support the two-state solution that Bibi now seems to be striving for. He has a particular problem with the Likud’s young, up-and-coming stars like Zeev Elkin, Danny Danon, Ofir Akunis, Tsipi Hotoveli and the current media darling Miri Regev. These are the parliamentarians who currently set the tone in Likud, and they are a truly impressive bunch. Danny Danon and Zeev Elkin explain to the world’s media why there will never be a Palestinian state, while Miri Regev proposes to apply Israeli law to the Jordan valley. None of them seem to be particularly intimidated by Netanyahu’s leadership.

They are blessed with happiness, for ignorance indeed seems to be the road to a simple, clear worldview, devoid of conflict. They believe that the EU is some minor player that will be cowed by Israel’s will, and also seem convinced that Israel has no need for any partners in trade, security and research. They don’t even realize that they are alienating the majority of diaspora Jewry to the point that an ever-growing proportion of U.S. Jews no longer sees attachment to Israel as central to their identity.

Netanyahu is therefore in the unenviable position that he doesn’t have his own party’s backing for an agreement with the Palestinians. Sharon was in a similar position, when Likud didn’t support his plan to disengage from the Gaza strip. So he split off with a sizeable number of Likud MKs and founded Kadima. But Netanyahu doesn’t even have this option, because only eight Likud members at the most would follow him if he were to branch out and found a new party.

Netanyahu’s troubles with Likud are largely of his own making: none of Israel’s liberals can forget the depth of the hatred that he generated against Rabin and his participation in demonstrations where Rabin was pictured in SS uniform. Neither can we or should we forget that Netanyahu took pride in having destroyed the Oslo peace process. Netanyahu’s leadership style, based on fanning fear and hatred, is at least partially responsible for the current character of Likud as an extremist, right-wing party, with a racist ideology and a total lack of understanding of Israel’s place in the world.

Whatever Netanyahu’s sins, and there are many, he is Israel’s prime minister in these critical years, crucial for Israel’s future. Israel’s liberals have no choice but to give him the backing he needs if he really wants to take the steps that could save Israel as the democratic homeland of the Jews by genuinely cooperating with Kerry’s drive toward peace.

Benjamin Netanyahu and Ze'ev Elkin during a Likud party meeting, May 14, 2012. Credit: Michal Fattal

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