The Israeli Left: King Bibi Is Naked!

There are signs that the peace camp is coming out of its coma and daring to take the prime minister to task for his catastrophic policies.

Carlo Strenger
Carlo Strenger
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Netanyahu speaks in the Knesset. April 19, 2014.
Netanyahu speaks in the Knesset. April 19, 2014.Credit: Emil Salman
Carlo Strenger
Carlo Strenger

During the last year or so it was easy to feel that Israel’s peace camp was in a coma with little chance of recovery. John Kerry’s peace initiative was ostensibly Tzipi Livni’s domain, but it was really run – i.e., undermined and torpedoed – by Naftali Bennett, the economy minister, and Uri Ariel, the housing minister, who used any pretext to initiate further construction in the West Bank, trying to make sure that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would look as weak as possible.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s credentials as peacemaker, never convincing to begin with, plummeted to below zero. It came as no surprise when the prime minister used the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas that ultimately led to a new Palestinian unity government as an excuse to break off any further negotiations. His sigh of relief could be heard throughout the Middle East.

The temperature of U.S.-Israel political relations dropped to an unprecedented low, close to the freezing point, as former U.S. envoy to Israel Daniel Kurtzer pointed out. The most audible voice in Israel’s government was, once again, Bennett, who in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed wrote that Israel should annex Area C (which is under Israeli control and constitutes roughly 60 percent of the West Bank). He brilliantly argued that this would contribute to stability, because it would reduce the size of the contested territory.

Bennett seems to believe his own rhetoric, which is quite remarkable, even though his argument is about as compelling as the idea that if North Korea declares sovereignty over two-thirds of South Korea (or vice versa – it’s just difficult to even fathom South Korea coming up with such a harebrained idea), this would lower the threshold of tension between the two countries.

The situation began to look frighteningly like Netanyahu’s previous term, in which Ehud Barak played the role of fig leaf for a government of the far right that was trying to ruin Israel’s democracy.

This week’s prestigious Herzliya Conference showed that reports of the demise of Israel’s peace camp have been premature. Finance Minister Yair Lapid blasted Netanyahu from this influential platform. He claimed that Bibi was uniquely responsible for the unprecedented decline in U.S.-Israel relations. He presented a detailed strategy for resuming Israeli-Palestinian talks, as well as for the dismantling of illegal settlements and a redeployment of the Israel Defense Forces on the West Bank. He made clear that his Yesh Atid party would react to any attempt to annex parts of the West Bank by toppling the government.

Justice Minister Livni followed suit at the conference, and said she was tired of being politically correct: The settlements were a liability for Israel’s security and its international standing, and lethal in terms of the country’s future as a democratic state. The chairwoman of the Hatnuah party is reported to be on her way out of the coalition and to be in intense negotiations with Isaac Herzog to join forces – a move that would give his Labor Party 21 seats in the Knesset, as many as the Likud, and more than Lapid’s 19 seats.

After 16 months of stability, Netanyahu’s government is teetering, particularly if you add Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s comment that this government no longer has any intelligible policy, an indication that he might jump ship as well.

Israel’s peace camp is waking up, and is finally saying out loud what anybody with eyes to see and ears to hear has realized for quite some time. Netanyahu, crowned King Bibi by Time Magazine two years ago, is naked. His only discernible policy is to appease the settlers and not to lose his own electoral base, which has moved to the extreme right.

Bibi’s attempt to belittle Lapid by pointing out his lack of experience doesn’t carry much water, because we can say one thing for sure: It is an established fact by now that Netanyahu’s foreign policy record is catastrophic. The United States has come to the conclusion that it doesn’t have a partner in Bibi. The European Union is threatening further sanctions if Israel indeed initiates further construction in the West Bank.

Neither the United States nor the rest of the world even count Netanyahu’s views when making their decisions about negotiating with Iran or cooperating with the Palestinian unity government: They are simply tired of his droning on about the next holocaust and lecturing them about their duties. And the rest of the world wonders whether the proverbial Jewish seychel (common sense) has evaporated in Israel’s leadership.

Livni and Lapid have called for an end to the charade of Netanyahu’s policy of doing absolutely nothing except accusing the world for not condemning the new Palestinian government as a terrorist entity. They are making good on their electoral promise and platform to strive for an actual peace agreement with the Palestinians instead of unsuccessfully trying to fool the world into believing that Netanyahu desperately wants peace whereas the Palestinians torpedo it.

It is notoriously impossible to predict the course of Israeli politics, and there are many possible scenarios ranging from Herzog, Lapid and Livni’s toppling the government and trying to form a new one, to new elections. But one thing seems quite certain now: Israel’s peace camp has woken up, and Netanyahu’s comfortable life is over. And this means that Israel’s future is beginning to look brighter.

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