Analysis

At Rally, Netanyahu Uses West Bank Settlements as a Shelter From Corruption Investigations

Satire becomes reality as Netanyahu's spins allegations against him as attempt by left to remove him from power to clear the way for a Palestinian state. Israeli right wingers should be concerned

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses roughly 3,000 right-wing Israelis who attended a support rally at Tel Aviv's Fairgrounds on Wednesday, August 9, 2017
Ilan Assayag

An Israeli who wanted to know what Benjamin Netanyahu would say at the rally organized for him by Likud MK David Bitan didn’t have to watch the live TV broadcasts. It was enough to watch a clip posted by satirist Assaf Harel on Haaretz’s site two days ago.

Netanyahu, Harel said, would seek to trivialize and ridicule the things he’s being investigated for and demand, “For this they’re going to divide Jerusalem?!” When the prime minister mounted the podium at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds on Wednesday, the satire became reality.

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He got the show of strength he wanted as the Likud hard core cheered him and his wife enthusiastically. However, the combination of the crowd’s cheers for the leader and the ministers and MKs who served as extras in the front rows recalled former minister Silvan Shalom’s statement that the Likud under Netanyahu had turned into the Ba’ath party.

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He isn’t going home yet over the investigations. Far from it. But his speech Wednesday night reminded people of his speeches from the twilight of his first term at the end of the 1990s. His speech didn’t freshen anything. He didn’t pull any rabbit from his hat or expose some detail that could shed a different light on the bribery suspicions against him.

Instead we got a collection of all the whining, self-pity and spin we’ve been hearing from him for the past six months. He complained about the “open season” against himself and his family, and about the left and media’s conspiracy to effect a “coup” –- no less. The effectiveness of these lines of attack is doubtful in view of the latest polls showing the public doesn’t believe the conspiracy theory Netanyahu is selling.

Apart from improving the mood and maintaining his deterrence against a few Likud rivals, it is not clear what Netanyahu got out of this event. After the cheers ended, the live broadcasts did too. Netanyahu will still wake up Thursday morning to a new day with his same old problems. The investigations aren’t going away and the state’s witnesses won’t change their minds.

In his speech, the prime minister used the mantle of Greater Israel and the West Bank settlements as a shelter from the corruption probes. This should have troubled quite a few people on the right. The prime minister said that as the media and the left brought about Yitzhak Shamir’s removal and the rise of the Rabin government that led to the Oslo agreement, so they are now trying to remove him to bring about the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Yes, it’s the same Netanyahu who implemented the Oslo agreement and evacuated Hebron in his first term, and delivered the Bar-Ilan speech in support of a Palestinian state in his second term. If hypocrisy had been listening in the hall, it would have been put to shame.

Roughly 3,000 right-wing Israelis attend pro-Netanyahu rally at Tel Aviv's Fairgrounds on Wednesday, August 9, 2017. Poster reads: "My prime minister."
Ilan Assayag

The same Netanyahu who agreed in 2014 to the American proposal to negotiate with the Palestinians on the basis of the 1967 borders, and who only a week ago circulated a tale about wanting to return Wadi Ara to the Palestinians, yesterday attacked the left for wanting to return Israel to those ‘67 lines. The same Netanyahu who in the security cabinet approved the Qalqiliyah plan to build 5,000 houses for Palestinians on the outskirts of Kfar Sava, yesterday attacked the left for wanting a Palestinian state on the same outskirts.

The only political rival Netanyahu attacked, twice, was former prime minister and defense minister Ehud Barak. If there’s anything bothering Netanyahu, it’s those pointed tweets of Barak against him and the video clips he posts against him on Facebook. Both won pretty good ratings. Barak is the man Netanyahu is most afraid of. Not only because Barak was his revered commander in the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit, but because Barak is the only left-wing politician to whom Netanyahu lost an election.

Netanyahu’s personal attack on Barak and his warnings of the existential danger Israel could be in if, heaven forbid, the left wins the election, shows what he thinks of his rightist colleagues. Naftali Bennett, Avigdor Lieberman, Gideon Saar, Yisrael Katz and Gilad Erdan – all of whom are no less right-wing than he and probably more so. He despises them, sees them as a bunch of dwarves and losers, who are bound to fail in any future election.