What Do Bibi and Maleficent Have in Common?

With fire and brimstone and a photo Benjamin Netanyahu conjured up this week at the UN, a frightening political scenario for his people, while shoring up his image as the only one who can lead embattled Israel.

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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Illustration by Amos Biderman
Illustration by Amos Biderman
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

With incriminating photographs in his suitcase of rocket launchings from a Gaza kindergarten and public executions, Israel’s top PR man was set to return to Israel this morning in high spirits. His speech at the United Nations this week left little imprint on the international community, but it undoubtedly created a powerful impression on Israelis – namely, one of pessimism over what the future holds.

From year to year, Netanyahu’s rhetoric, especially at the UN General Assembly, becomes darker, more threatening, more intimidating and more global in its reach. It is a reflection of his self-perceived place in the history of the Jewish people. He alone is designated to be at the helm at this time, in this decade, in order to save Israel from perdition.

He always comes to the UN podium with lecture aids – photos and illustrations – otherwise known as gimmicks. With their help he depicts himself not only as the real leader of the Free World – rather than that wimp in the White House – but also as the only leader of embattled Israel. He draws on the gadgetry to persuade Israelis that they had better keep electing him again and again, because only under him will they live in security in their land, however scared they might be.

Netanyahu has been likened to Maleficent, the wicked fairy godmother in the Walt Disney version of “Sleeping Beauty.” Whenever she appears in the animated film, the skies darken with ominous clouds. Thunder roars, lightning crackles, and danger and doom descend. When Netanyahu takes the floor at the UN, no one expects an optimistic message or a breakthrough vision. The only question is how depressed we will be afterward.

The prime minister’s rivals say this is a tactic aimed at presenting him as the only leadership alternative for Israel now. That’s a reasonable analysis. After all, he’s a politician with his eye on another term in office. And the other pretenders to the crown in his immediate surroundings don’t appear to be capable of bearing the country’s incomprehensible security and existential burden.

But we should also take into account that Netanyahu truly believes these dire prophecies. Even though he paid lip service to U.S. President Barack Obama this week by declaring his commitment to a two-state solution, he doesn’t really believe in that option. In his perception, if Israel leaves the West Bank, the West Bank will be seized by Hamas, and later maybe also by the ISIS guys, who will slither into our backyard via Jordan. Not to mention a nuclear Iran, which is always at the foundation of the Netanyahu vision of the apocalypse.

We’ll always have Iran, and now also the Islamic State and Hamas, and in the future Hezbollah, of course, and all the rest of that maleficence.

Bird in the hand

In a week in which the already very theoretical possibility of reaching an agreement with the Palestinians imploded like a surgically struck building in Gaza, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni was in Washington for “diplomatic meetings.” One of her interlocutors was Secretary of State John Kerry. The timing was undoubtedly terrible. Like a medical concilium convened to discuss treatment for a patient who’s already given up the ghost.

Livni placed all the blame for the failed peace talks on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. “Abbas should have opted for the American framework document, which would have led him to a Palestinian state,” she wrote on her Facebook page, adding, “Instead of following the path of negotiations, which would have enabled the creation of a Palestinian state, Abbas is now going to spend years on his demand for the UN to set a date for statehood.” What’s needed now, she explained, is international and regional cooperation against Islamist terrorism – that is what we must focus on.

That was her answer to MK Amram Mitzna, the mischievous kid in her Hatnuah party who told Haaretz this week that their mutual peace party has no place in the coalition. But even when the party’s over and the lights are dimmed – Livni has no intention of leaving the government. Now, as she wrote, we have to concentrate on a combined worldwide effort against ISIS and forge a new peace process that will bypass the Palestinian Authority.

That’s her justification, or pretext, for remaining in the government for now. The truth is that it would not be realistic to expect Livni to leave the Netanyahu government at present. Not immediately after Abbas accused Israel of genocide and is setting in motion the diplomatic horror movie of turning to the institutions of the UN and to the International Court in The Hague. For her to leave now would be taken as tantamount to backing the Palestinian leader’s escalating struggle against Israel. And resigning also has its gloomy practical aspects: The government could go on without her for another year.

Livni has nothing to gain from being part of the dreary opposition. As leader of a six-member faction in the back benches, amid the ultra-Orthodox, the Arabs and Meretz, she’d wither away and become irrelevant even before we could say “Tzipi who?” Besides, it’s a well-known axiom that “Livni” and “opposition” are mutually exclusive terms.

The conclusion: Livni will leave only when she is convinced the government will not survive. In other words, together with Finance Minister Yair Lapid and his party. Afterward, she’ll have to decide how to run in the next election: with Yair (slight possibility), with Labor leader Isaac Herzog (good chance), or alone (seriously...?).

In any event, Mitzna will have to wait. It’s heartwarming to see that after all he’s been through in politics, he hasn’t lost his naivete.

After them, the deluge

Almost every clause of the 2015 state budget is stirring controversy. Apart from the finance minister and his advisers, who are convinced – or want us to think they’re convinced – that their budget is a gift of the god (that is, Lapid) to Israel’s citizens, others in the government are holding their noses, even as they vote in favor.

“There are no growth engines in the draft budget, it contains no message,” a senior economic minister said this week. “It’s not a catastrophe. It wants to avoid conflicts with everyone. If there is one missed opportunity, it’s the defense allocation.”

The consensus regarding Lapid’s second budget is that there won’t be a third one. That assessment was voiced this week by four ministers from different parties in off-the-record conversations. Similar tunes can be heard in Lapid’s milieu.

Party leaders believe that the land mines in the 2015 budget will ensure that the 2016 budget will be one of the cruelest in the country’s history, maybe the cruelest of all. It will contain tax hikes and severe cuts and harsh decrees, not to mention whips and scorpions. No prime minister or finance minister who wants to survive politically would consider passing a nightmarish budget like that before an election. Netanyahu and Lapid will find an excuse, or it will be found in poor relations in the top echelons, to dismantle the package and hold an election at the end of 2015 or in early 2016.

On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, Netanyahu and Lapid each looked into their own private mirrors, which told them that an election campaign early next year will not serve them. So they put it off, knowing that the next budget will be able to pass only after an election, when all the political players are eager to take up their new posts. Where will Netanyahu and Lapid be then? God knows. But the deluge they are preparing for us will assuredly come.

With this in mind, Netanyahu has launched talks with the leaders of the coalition parties to ensure that the coalition functions smoothly during the Knesset’s winter session. According to an informed source, initial agreements were reached on religious legislation and even about continued construction (of “reasonable” proportions, the source says) in the West Bank. Netanyahu also got Lapid to agree that Yesh Atid, now the largest party in the coalition, will not demand another minister from its own ranks, but will support the appointment of someone from Likud to replace outgoing Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar.

Netanyahu’s dream of dumping Yesh Atid and bringing the Haredim into the government instead was scuttled by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who has made it plain to Netanyahu that the scheme will not work. The prime minister discovered that a genuine alliance, or an interesting axis, has been forged between Lieberman and Lapid. How ironic, Netanyahu must be thinking, that the prophet of the New Politics is curling up in the same political bed with the salient symbol of the Old Politics.

The Lapid-Lieberman connection is one more headache for Netanyahu ahead of the next election. He’s trying to figure out how intense the romance is and whether it will survive the next vote, when the party leaders will be expected to recommend their candidate for prime minister to President Reuven Rivlin. The answer to that question will likely not be known until the votes are counted.

At the moment, both Lapid and Lieberman would like to make this Netanyahu’s last term in power. In private conversations, Lieberman is predicting that this will in fact be the case. That’s a disturbing message for the premier, though Lieberman’s predictions and assessments have often fallen flat in the past.

All the news

At 10 P.M. on Monday, Israel time, two hours after Netanyahu’s speech in the UN – while Netanyahu and his American benefactor billionaire casino king Sheldon Adelson were lunching amid a bevy of security guards, sharpshooters and traffic jams in Manhattan – Israel Radio broadcast its hourly news. As expected, the newscast opened with an extensive report about the speech and, in its wake, of course, the reactions. Five in number.

Here’s the order of the reactions as decided by the editor. We’ll start from the end, for the fun of it: No. 5. The reaction of State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki, who rejected, in real time, Netanyahu’s comparison of ISIS and Hamas. She was sent to the end of the line. 4. Hamas’ reaction, namely that the photo of the rocket launchers in a kindergarten was fabricated. 3. The reaction of the Palestinian Authority. 2. The reaction of Israel’s opposition leader Herzog. 1. The reaction of Adelson, who was described as “a confidant of the prime minister.” Yes, he was first to be quoted on the newscast.

“Netanyahu’s speech was excellent,” the broadcaster said, quoting the confidant, “but [Adelson] thought Netanyahu gave the peace issue too much place. ‘The Palestinians don’t want peace, and in my opinion there is no chance of peace,’ Adelson said.”

Off-the-wall? Every editor uses his professional discretion. And everyone can make a mistake. Ultimately, it’s all in the eye of the beholder and in the ear of the listener. But that weird – to put it mildly – lineup might prompt the more suspicious types among us to wonder whether someone in Israel Radio, at whatever level, is looking toward the future, toward the new era in the Israel Broadcasting Authority, when a new executive is installed and new or new-old editors and directors will be appointed.

And maybe, just maybe, the Prime Minister’s Bureau will have a voice in deciding who will lead Israel Radio into a glorious future. So it’s a good idea to keep the people in the bureau happy, especially when they are in the Diaspora, protecting Israel bodily. You never know. In any event, it’s a darn good thing that a reform of the IBA has been decided upon.

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