Analysis

While Netanyahu Makes Annexation Promises, Reality (Almost) Hits Him on the Head

After using up every other trick, Netanyahu pulls out of his hat his last remaining rabbit. But even the U.S. administration is skeptical

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leaves following a press conference in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Tuesday, September 10, 2019.
Oded Balilty,AP

One should relate to election promises, and to Benjamin Netanyahu’s in particular, as one relates to a perfume. Not the one used by Ayelet Shaked in her fascism promo, but the legendary one mentioned by Shimon Peres, who said: Smell it, don’t drink it. 

A week before the election, Netanyahu's main worry is the opinion polls that show that he is stuck with 57-58 Knesset seats for the right-wing bloc while his court hearing, schedule for October 3, looms nearer.

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So after using the transfer of the U.S. embassy to West Jerusalem and the American recognition of the Golan Heights as Israeli territory, Netanyahu pulls out of his hat his last remaining rabbit: A commitment to impose Israeli sovereignty on the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea.

No, it will not happen on Wednesday in a legislative blitz at the Knesset. The plenary will be convened, but only for the purpose of a cheap and pathetic spin in the form of the “cameras bill,” not-of-blessed-memory. The newly declared intention will only be realized if he is elected, and if he gets to form the government and if the White House – headed by a mercurial and volatile president who is not concealing his eagerness to hold a meeting with Hassan Rohani of Iran – graces it with its blessing. Don’t hold your breath.

What was indeed held up on Tuesday was a political rally in Ashdod, which Netanyahu was supposed to address. A few rockets fired from Gaza toward Israel's south forced him to flee to a protected area, with swarms of bodyguards sheltering him. As Bibi himself put it with an expression coined a few years ago, "this is real life."

Also on Tuesday, the trickster from Balfour Street lied in an affidavit to the head of the Central Elections Committee, Justice Hanan Melcer. He said that his live on-air appearance would not include electioneering. The “dramatic” announcement heralded by his advisers and played up by the media for hours beforehand, was a typical exercise in deception. The promised “boom” was nowhere to be seen. To use the phrase Netanyahu loves to use when talking about his corruption cases, "there was nothing."

The new iPhone display by Apple on the same day was much more interesting. There, at least, there was some substance. Here, it’s all bells and whistles. Even the U.S. administration, at the height of one more day in Donald Trump’s cuckoo nest, did not go with the flow. Right after Netanyahu’s show there was a cool response: “There is no change in White House policy.” There, too, they read the polls and collect information, preferring to wait until the morning after Israel holds its election.

Bluffs follow lies that follow spins, and the sea never dries up. For weeks Netanyahu seemed to be losing control of the agenda, dealing with deranged tweets by his elder son and with jaw-dropping testimonies by the protagonists in his criminal cases. Since the beginning of the week, with the airstrikes in Iraq, the uncovering of an Iranian base, the sovereignty speech and the upcoming trip to meet Putin, the prime minister managed to switch the conversation back to diplomacy and security. That’s where his advantage lies, this is the Likud’s strength over its companion right-wing parties, including Yamina, Shas and Otzma Yehudit, which has been holding steady above the electoral threshold in the latest polls with four projected Knesset seats. 

The agenda is back under control: No more talk of a state governed by Jewish law, no more talk of criminal cases. Here and there Netanyahu takes friendly fire, such as when MK Miki Zohar foolishly praised the “special Jewish race”, or when former MK Benny Begin announced that he’s fed up with a party he was born into 76 years ago. As in every election, certainly the last two, the next few days will serve up a “banquet.” 

The big parties will pounce on the small ones, digging their teeth in. The sturdier ones will survive, or escape by the skin of their teeth. After Netanyahu’s trick on Tuesday, Shaked’s Yamina is in danger. After the failure in April, it can again feel the sword hovering over its neck.