Whoever watched Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address on Monday at the opening of the Knesset’s winter session probably felt like it was a post-holiday evening on one of Israel’s television channels, when instead of new, original programming, they broadcast a compilation of excerpts of past shows. But Netanyahu’s speech went even further; it felt like a rerun of a compilation. It was a rereading of his despairing speech to the UN General Assembly, translated into Hebrew.
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At certain points during the prime minister’s address, it was possible to get confused and think that the person standing at the Knesset podium was not the Israeli prime minister but Iranian leader Ali Khamanei, or former Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. The same leaders who, faced with a serious economic crisis and severe international isolation, do not propose any real solution to their people, but merely call for sabr (patience) and sumud (steadfastness).
Like the leaders of Hamas and Iran, Netanyahu in his address almost totally ignored domestic problems like the cost of living, poverty and the housing crisis, for which he has no solutions and for which he can’t blame anyone else. He devoted only 90 words to those issues. By contrast, most of his speech dealt with security and diplomatic threats – for which he doesn’t have any solutions, either, but which help him incite the public against external enemies.
Netanyahu pulled out his page of familiar messages that speak to the most nationalistic emotions and fears. The whole world is against us, the UN is an arena of lies and anti-Israel plots, all the Palestinians are the same, the Palestinian Authority’s security apparatus is a joke, and PA President Mahmoud Abbas incites terror attacks against Jews.
Netanyahu accused elements in the international community, as well as in Israel, of shutting their eyes to the security threats, of adopting an “it’ll be okay” attitude toward them. But what stood out in his speech was that he is taking the same approach to the diplomatic threats facing the country: If we ignore them, perhaps they’ll go away.
Thus, for example, he accurately sketched out the Palestinian strategy for imposing a West Bank withdrawal on Israel under conditions that would damage vital diplomatic and security interests. But at the same time, he offered no sophisticated solution or creative initiative to fend off or halt this process. Here, too, the only proposal was steadfastness. Sit still and do nothing. “We must categorically reject all dictates,” he said. “There is no choice. We must withstand the pressure.”
Part of Netanyahu’s speech was devoted to construction in East Jerusalem and the settlement blocs. He stressed that this fell within the national consensus and that such construction was a privilege and an obligation and would continue.
But this, too, was part of the Bibi-bluff. It was enough to hear how Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel spoke on Monday about the announcements and leaks from the Prime Minister’s Office during the previous 48 hours to get the impression of a pending construction boom. In fact, though, Netanyahu did nothing on Monday other than advance the planning process for 1,060 apartments in the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Ramat Shlomo and Har Homa, which are beyond the Green Line. No bulldozer will move as the result of his announcement; at most, a few files will be shifted between offices of the Jerusalem District Planning Committee.
The reality is that Netanyahu is afraid to build because he fears international sanctions, but is also afraid to admit he isn’t building because he fears the wrath of the settlers and wants to hold his coalition together. Everything else is just spin and slogans.
Netanyahu did not forget to mention his “plan” for a regional arrangement with Arab countries that bypasses the Palestinians. How will he come to such an arrangement? He didn’t say. What is Israel prepared to bring to the table? He didn’t say. The truth is that no Arab has been born who will agree to move one millimeter in Netanyahu’s direction so long as these are his positions on the Palestinians.
Opposition chairman Isaac Herzog, who spoke after Netanyahu, delivered one of the toughest speeches he has likely ever given. After Netanyahu scornfully addressed him by his nickname, “Bouji,” and noted how much he had admired his father, the late President Chaim Herzog, the Labor Party chairman responded with a personal attack of his own.
“Bibi, you’re scared, you’re cut off,” said Herzog. But what probably riled Netanyahu even more was the semi-historical analysis that Herzog offered regarding the impression Netanyahu had left so far as prime minister. Herzog called it six years of surviving in office, with nothing on the horizon, no vision, and no legacy.