Analysis

The Farce of Israel's Most Bloated Government Only Serves Netanyahu

Netanyahu took pride in improving the living standards; now he wants to share responsibility for the economic downturn ■ Jerusalem likely to become major flashpoint yet again

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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Benjamin Netanyahu arrives at the Likud party headquarters following the announcement of exit polls during Israel's parliamentary election in Tel Aviv, Israel September 18, 2019.
Benjamin Netanyahu arrives at the Likud party headquarters following the announcement of exit polls during Israel's parliamentary election in Tel Aviv, Israel September 18, 2019. Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

The steep drop in the numbers of new coronavirus cases in Israel is creating the illusion of a return to routine. In fact, the return is partial because entire sectors of the economy are still paralyzed or operating under restrictions. Moreover, a return to normal of Israel’s trade with other countries, and certainly the return of air travel and foreign tourism, depend to a large extent on the development of a vaccine for the virus.

The progress towards a vaccine that has been reported separately by an American company and Oxford University has breathed optimism into the situation in recent days, but in the best case it will take many months until the development of the vaccine is completed. And after that, it will take a tremendous worldwide effort to vaccinate most of the population of the world. This is a huge millstone around the neck of the world economy.

Apparently, the long economic crisis that is looming was a major consideration in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to establish the unity government that was sworn in last week, together with half of what had been the Kahol Lavan slate. Like U.S. President Donald Trump but for a longer time, Netanyahu has boasted of the constant improvement in his voters’ standard of living. Now he wants to share the responsibility for a period of downturn that citizens will experience on their own skin.

This burden, too, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi will share. However, it appears that their success will be measured by the extent of their ability to rein in both Netanyahu’s plan for a unilateral annexation of parts of the West Bank and the coordinated attack he is leading on the judiciary system.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Gabi Ashkenazi and Kahol Lavan chairman Benny Gantz, Sderot, February 24 2020
Minister of Foreign Affairs Gabi Ashkenazi and Kahol Lavan chairman Benny Gantz, Sderot, February 24 2020Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The Israeli media have devoted many pages and innumerable minutes of air time to the unprecedented size of the unity government, and the waste of money involved in breaking government ministries down into illogical fractions of their former selves. However, it is possible that this fragmentation was not only a means for placating the Likud government ministers, the ultra-Orthodox parties and the defectors from the left bloc, but was also done for its own sake. .

The new government has a single supreme aim: ensuring the political survival of the prime minister, who will set a precedent Sunday when he begins to stand trial on a triple indictment. The political chaos that has been created is in fact part of this legal matter. This is a huge, divided, contentious government in which senior, experienced ministers have been left without roles, others have been given portfolios they didn’t even want, and power and authority have been ripped away from ministries with no reason, and reconfigured to create fictive portfolios.

This farce serves only Netanyahu. Most of the Liked ministers have been reduced in stature and humiliated by their very acceptance of the positions they were given, while his rivals from Kahol Lavan were dragged into the government for lack of an alternative, in conditions favorable to him. Only he alone, in the center, looks like someone who has retained his power.

On the other side of the globe, the United States of America is now paying the price for electing Trump. Israel, thanks in part to important decisions Netanyahu took at the right time, has been spared similar damage in dealing with the coronavirus. However, when we examine what is happening here of late – the demonstrative corruption, the low obsequiousness towards the ruler, the quasi-regal attributes he is adopting (and the deputy prime minister in his wake) – it is hard not to wonder whether the time will come when we too will begin to pay the sort of price Americans face.

The rare conjunction this summer of an unprecedented trial, a major economic crisis and an absurd, dangerous annexation plan is liable to provide the spark that ends in a conflagration.

Israeli security forces patrol the deserted al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City on March 20, 2020.
Israeli security forces patrol the deserted al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City on March 20, 2020. Credit: AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP

‘For the sake of Al-Aqsa’

In a week full of noteworthy days, there was also the celebration of Jerusalem Day on Thursday. “Al-Aqsa Terror: From Libel to Blood,” a new book by veteran journalist and Jerusalem scholar Nadav Shragai, describes the role of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount as the background and major justification for terror attacks on Israelis carried out by Palestinians.

In the book, which was published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and Sella Meir, Shragai says the Palestinian fear that the Temple Mount is in real danger from Israel stems from “mendacious propaganda and incitement.” This, he asserts further on, became “a direct cause of terror and the fuel that set in motion many of the lone-wolf terror attacks.”

Shragai focuses on the attacks in recent years and two main waves – the events that erupted in Jerusalem at the end of Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip in summer 2014 and, after that, the wave of terror attacks also called the “lone-wolf intifada,” beginning in October 2015.

According to him, in 93 percent of the attacks in Jerusalem between August 2014 and May 2016, and in many other terror attacks thereafter, “The Temple Mount story was present, either as a sole motive or as one of the motives that led the attacker to go out and take action.”

He cites a study that analyzes the background of 71 terror attacks that occurred during this period. He wrote: “Many of the lone wolves who went out into the streets of Israel in recent years to shoot, run over or stab Jews did so because they had been incited to believe that the State of Israel is acting to destroy the Temple Mount mosques. Though technically they acted as individuals, without organizational direction, the fuel that impelled many of them to take action was shared in common – the story to the effect that Al-Aqsa is in danger.”

According to the studies, many of the young men who set out to commit terror attacks in the name of defending the Temple Mount suffered from acute personal and family problems. “The terror attacks and the attempted attacks they carried out afforded them recognition and social rehabilitation, and in a single stroke relocated them from the margins of Palestinian society to its shrine of glory. The terror attack rescued them and their families from the shunning and the shame that their previous status had brought upon them,” he writes.

A study carried out for the Public Security Ministry by Prof. Ariel Merari and Prof. Boaz Ganor found that two-thirds of the assailants who carried out attacks and were questioned suffered from psychiatric disorders, psychosis or suicidal tendencies. The researchers based their findings on a database that included 700 assailants who took part in 560 attacks, and who had acted alone or with others without help from an established organization.

The justification for defending Jerusalem, action “for the sake of Al-Aqsa,” was also mentioned in the last will and testament of a Palestinian teenager who ran over and gravely injured an IDF soldier near Hebron last week and was then shot by soldiers. This week, in reaction to the establishment of the new government in Israel and Netanyahu’s promises to take action to annex parts of the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority declared, not for the first time, the discontinuation of its security cooperation with Israel.

During the course of this past month of Ramadan, the mosques on the Temple Mount were closed for the first time in hundreds of years as a preventive measure against the coronavirus. Now, in the lull from the coronavirus and as the tension between the two sides threatens to rise, it may be assumed that Jerusalem will once again become one of the main arenas of friction.

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