Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is emerging from Operation Protective Edge with far greater public support than he had on the eve of the security escalation in the south, and prior to the kidnapping and murder in June of the three yeshiva students in Gush Etzion. According to a survey by Haaretz conducted this week after the cease-fire went into effect, 77 percent of the public believes that his functioning during the campaign in the Gaza Strip was excellent or good, although quite a large percentage would prefer to call it a tie rather than a victory.
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That’s what he has, and it’s a great deal. But what doesn’t he have? There’s no commotion on the streets. There’s no public bitterness about ending the fighting before we occupied Gaza and caused its collapse, or before allowing the Israel Defense Forces to win. There are no angry demonstrations and no protest by reservists like those that spread all over the country at the end of the Second Lebanon War in 2006 (which Netanyahu and his followers made sure to intensify), and mainly there is no genuine, insistent demand to establish a state commission of inquiry into the operation.
There will apparently be some kind of investigation sponsored by the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, headed by Ze’ev Elkin (Likud), but we can reasonably assume that Netanyahu does not fear that his head will roll there. Knesset members even conjectured that the sophisticated and cunning Elkin hastened to announce the establishment of his committee so as to neutralize future demands for creation of a government body headed by a Supreme Court justice. There is also the long summer recess that started early this week and will last until the end of October. A recess serves as a brake to political maneuvers, if such are being planned.
Anyone who had it in for Netanyahu, both inside and outside his party, will be forced to cool off for at least the next two months. Try starting up with a prime minister who has two-thirds of the public behind him. The prevailing assumption in political corridors is that at the moment there is no reason to fear an attempted putsch against Netanyahu, despite the fact that the nation and the political establishment have lately begun to show signs of becoming tired of the veteran leader.
At the start of the campaign some prophesied – along with this column – that Netanyahu could not “come out ahead” from a military campaign, in light of past precedents. But at least for now, he doesn’t seem to be in any danger. Still, the 29 days of fighting illustrated the extent to which Netanyahu is stuck in an impossible coalition on the one hand, and an intolerable party on the other.
Two major partners, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beiteinu and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett of Habayit Hayehudi, attacked him from the rear, contradicted him, challenged and defied him on various occasions, each in his own way and for his own reasons. Even in Likud, the premier’s political home, they gave him no peace. Likud ministers and MKs forgot the mantra “quiet, we’re shooting” and were not afraid to express their opinions and publicize their displeasure over what was going on.
Finance Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid), who demonstrated loyalty and statesmanship during the course of the operation, gave free rein to his tongue the moment the clouds of dust raised by Israel Defense Forces tanks had settled. Lapid was quoted yesterday in Maariv, accusing Netanyahu of damaging Israel’s relations with the United States.
Lapid’s criticism of Netanyahu is justified. The quarrels with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the scolding of U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro, and the fact that these were exposed in the media constituted quintessential insanity.
But Lapid’s motive is personal. The chairman of Yesh Atid cannot forgive Netanyahu for failing to help him to pass the proposed law to cancel the value-added tax on new apartments for first-time home buyers. Now he is pressuring Netanyahu and his bureau to bring the bill for a final vote in the plenum even before the Jewish holidays, at the beginning of September. Lapid’s associates once again made it clear this week: “He won’t hesitate to bring down the government on this issue.”
Here is another side effect of the military operation, one that already existed and came to the surface with greater intensity recently: the loss of respect for the prime minister. Netanyahu has become a doormat. Many of his ministers, as well as MKs in Likud and the coalition, are not afraid to poke him in the eye, to swing at him, to cast doubt on his judgment. How ironic that of all his partners, the person most loyal to him is Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who was once his most bitter rival. The coordination and harmony between them during the fighting, along with the support from the third and critical side of the triangle, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, were almost total.
The political fallout from Operation Protective Edge once again raised speculation regarding Netanyahu’s possible departure from Likud and the establishment of a new, centrist