Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahus "Budapest speech," in which he urged Europe to stop supporting the Palestinians, was the clearest expression yet of his worldview. He arrived as an international rock star and crony of U.S. President Donald Trump; the leaders of Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic flew in to meet him alongside his Hungarian host.
In a semi-closed forum, Netanyahu dispensed with the restraints and niceties that characterize his official speeches, abandoned political correctness and let loose. At least in the section broadcast to journalists (apparently by mistake), he didnt speak about peace or the two-state solution, but about Israels growing power to help form alliances with other countries, a message repeated in all his speeches of the last year.
In Paris en route to Budapest, Netanyahu surprisingly harshly criticized the Trump administration. He accused his friend in the White House of endangering Israels security interests via the Russian-American cease-fire deal in southern Syria. Netanyahu often spoke that way about Trumps predecessor, Barack Obama, and his nuclear deal with Iran, but is that any way to speak about his friend Trump?
After eight years of spats with Obama, one would have expected Netanyahu and Trump to resolve their differences quietly and not reveal the cracks in their relationship. But Netanyahu had no qualms: On top of criticizing Trumps Syria deal, he also publicly scorned the presidents peace initiative.
What happened? Netanyahu apparently feels Trump is weak and isolated, is having trouble functioning and, most importantly, has no control over Congress, Netanyahus bastion of support. This week, a few Republican rebels in the Senate foiled Trumps health insurance bill, thereby leaving Obamacare in place.
Netanyahu understands politics and knows that in this situation, he has nothing to fear from the new administration, just as he didnt fear confronting the last one. He assumes the Republican majority in both houses of Congress will thwart any attempt by Trump to impose the ultimate deal with the Palestinians on Israel. A few more empty talks with U.S. envoys Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, a few more videos of Palestinian incitement, and Trumps initiative will join those of his predecessors on the scrap heap.
The basis for Netanyahus diplomatic activism is his assessment that America is growing weaker and gradually withdrawing from the Middle East. The visit to Haifa Port by the aircraft carrier George H. W. Bush, the first such visit since the beginning of the second intifada, doesnt change the overall trend.
Oil is cheaper, and America no longer depends on the Middle East for its supply. Public opinion is isolationist, opposed to wars far from home. Americas internal rifts are deep and getting wider, and Netanyahu has taken the conservative side without even a pretense of bipartisanism. Perhaps bipartisan support is no longer even possible when Americans are so divided over everything. Its better to have the Republicans support, since their control of Congress seems unassailable.
Netanyahu sees the Christian community as Israels most important bastion of support in America, alongside Orthodox Jews. His recent decisions against the Reform and Conservative movements – canceling the Western Wall deal and advancing the conversion bill – reflect a strategic disengagement from liberal American Jews.
This wasnt a caprice caused by momentary pressure from Israels ultra-Orthodox parties, but a calculated decision that won almost wall-to-wall support in the cabinet. Netanyahus circle sees liberal Jewry as a transient phenomenon that will disappear on its own in another generation due to intermarriage and lack of interest in Jewish tradition or Israel.
Beat them to the punch
For years, liberal Jews have threatened to break with Israel if it continues discriminating against their denominations, and some have also vocally opposed the unending occupation of the territories. They didnt expect a right-wing Israeli government to break with them first.
This is Netanyahus message: Anyone who wants to support Israel must accept it as it is, with the occupation and the settlements. Anyone who accepts Israel only in the pre-1967 lines, like the European Union, is crazy and not wanted here. Reform Jews can keep praying at Temple Emanu-El on Fifth Avenue and see the Western Wall in pictures.
Liberal Europe, devoted to human rights and moral preaching, is sinking under the weight of waves of Middle Eastern refugees. Netanyahu doesnt need it; he believes he has found alternatives in Russia, China and Narendra Modis India, and less openly, in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. Those countries admire only power, not justice.
The main thing is for Germany to keep giving Israel the submarines that lend force to Netanyahus intensifying threats against Iran (anyone who threatens our existence puts his own existence at risk, threaten destruction to anyone who threatens to destroy us). And Germanys support can always be bolstered with more Holocaust memorial ceremonies, as Netanyahu did this week in France and Hungary.
Now he just needs to find a similar solution to make police investigators annoying questions go away.
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