Mr. Benjamin 'Status Quo' Netanyahu Heads to the UN

Abbas' speech presents a challenge to Israel, but unfortunately Netanyahu has no strategy, no vision and no direction.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, July 28, 2014.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, July 28, 2014.Credit: Reuters
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

The “genocide” speech of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas before the UN General Assembly filled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fuel tank as he takes off this morning for New York. As always with Netanyahu, crises charge his batteries. His speech, which threatened to be a tiresome lecture on Islamic terrorism, will now become, from his perspective, an appropriate Zionist retribution.

But despite the sudden plot twist, Netanyahu will arrive at the General Assembly still boasting the title “Mr. Status Quo” that suits him so well. Netanyahu will stand at the UN rostrum, after a year in which he offered few initiatives and preferred to be dragged along by or react to events. He did not go too far to the left, nor did he break sharply to the right.

On the one hand, he has not made peace or moved ahead any significant diplomatic maneuver. On the other hand, neither has he made war to speak of. The attack against Iran’s nuclear facility that he threatened is off the table and when it came to Hamas, he preferred the deterrent to the decisive.

In other words, Netanyahu went with the flow. One day goes by and then another. In the morning he is pulled in one direction and in the evening, in another. With no clear direction, no strategy and no explicit and promising vision other than the thing he does best of all, surviving in office.

Anyone looking for proof of this can find it in the holiday interviews he gave, as usual, only to the right-wing newspapers. Every word that came out of his mouth screamed passiveness, entrenchment and deadlock. The Jerusalem Post’s diplomatic correspondent Herb Keinon asked Netanyahu whether Israel should not take some sort of diplomatic initiative if only in an attempt to minimize the damage to its image as a result of the war in Gaza.

Netanyahu rejected the idea and pulled out his classic magical solution: you guessed it, hasbara. What we need to do, he said, is to “create the equation between our battle against Hamas, and the West’s battle against ISIS (Islamic State).” Netanyahu believes that if the West continues to fight the Islamic State, as a result, more and more people will understand the threat Israel faces and the harsh international criticism because of the war in Gaza or the occupation of the West Bank will diminish. One has one’s doubts.

Netanyahu’s remarks at the end of the war in Gaza about a “new diplomatic horizon,” or an alliance with moderate Sunni Arab countries have disappeared as if they never existed. The maximum that Netanyahu agreed to say in the holiday interviews was that this was “worth looking into.” Meanwhile, he claimed that the Arab League peace initiative – originally a Saudi plan – is irrelevant from his point of view. This will no doubt assist that looking-into.

Ironically, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who left New York on Saturday, resembles Netanyahu more than he knows. He is also enamored of the status quo and deals mainly with entrenching his autocratic rule in what appears to be a Palestinian version of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. In his speech, parts of which were from the bizarre, Abbas presented no new practical plan.

Nevertheless, Abbas’ speech presents a challenge and even a real threat on Netanyahu’s doorstep and that of the State of Israel. The direction the Palestinian president is signaling is conflict – legal, diplomatic, image-wise, and perhaps even a third intifada. For Netanyahu, unfortunately, there is no strategy that will pass the initiative to Israel. The danger is that he will only respond and be dragged along.

The crisis between Israel and the Palestinians will occupy quite a bit of the conversation between Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday at the White House. Netanyahu will discover that despite the war on Islamic State, the peace process still interests Obama. The American president said rightly in his speech at the UN that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the source of all the problems in the Middle East, but he stressed that the problems in the region are not an excuse not to solve it. The status quo is “not sustainable,” he said.

Obama bemoaned the fact that too many Israelis were using the violence in the Middle East as a reason to abandon efforts to reach peace with the Palestinians, “and that’s something worthy of reflection within Israel," he added. Obama was referring to one Israeli in particular.

One of the prime minister’s main messages in holiday interviews was, “I told you so.” Netanyahu explained that seeing into the future is a very important characteristic for a leader. Perhaps. Others would say that in fact, shaping the future is a no less important trait for a leader. Netanyahu apparently prefers to go down in the history books as an oracle rather than a bulldozer.

In Netanyahu’s speech to the United Nations we will hear a great deal about the Iranian fraud, Abbas’ lies and the similarity between Hamas and Islamic State. But apparently we will not get an answer to the question the answer to which we have seeking for five years now. Other than power, the trappings of office and survival, why does Netanyahu want to be prime minister? To do what? Where, if anywhere, does he want to lead the State of Israel?

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