In the twilight of his reign, Benjamin Netanyahu is busy studying the history of leaders that came before him. He watched the movie "Ben-Gurion, Epilogue" and wondered if "the old man" really meant his emphatic statement about the occupied territories: "I would return everything immediately." He is interested in the history of the Hasmoneans, the rulers of the final Jewish state that existed here before David Ben-Gurion declared the State of Israel. The Hasmoneans survived for two centuries, according to tradition, and the modern State of Israel has not yet reached half that time. Netanyahu wonders whether it will break the record of Yohanan Hyrcanus, Alexander Yannai, Queen Shlomzion and Herod the Great, or collapse like its ancient predecessor, into a fractured state devastated by internal and external wars, until it finally loses its political independence.
Netanyahu often speaks of Israel's tremendous power, which attracts admirers from Africa and Asia. He has a go-to speech on Israel's four powers: security, economic, political and social matters. But when the cameras turn off and the make-up is removed, Netanyahu is shrouded in anxiety regarding Israel's fate and future, wondering how to ensure its existence. In his statements, he vows to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons while his actions assume that a nuclear Iran is a fait accompli. There is no other justification for the establishment of a submarine fleet: Whoever establishes a "second-strike capability" assumes that the enemy will have a "first-strike capability."
These anxieties bring Netanyahu to the conclusion that his leadership is vital to Israel's existence, that his successors cannot withstand the pressures should he fall from power and the renewed Jewish independence would be lost. He's not the first to feel this way: Most, if not all, of his predecessors held the misled illusion that their leadership is the very most important source of Israel's power. This feeling must come with the job. Ben-Gurion, like Netanyahu, wavered between fear of a second Holocaust and vain boasts of "the Third Kingdom of Israel." He also thought his successors, Moshe Sharett and Levi Eshkol, would endanger the nascent state's security. Golda Meir, Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir, Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin, Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert all felt the same way and justified their policy with concerns of Israel's resilience and international status if they were to be replaced.
This belief, that only I can lead, has a clear political consequence: the prime minister is stuck to the throne. No Israeli prime minister has voluntarily resigned and gone home, simply because his term ended. Netanyahu is now playing the lead role in the tragedy of "Regime Change in Jerusalem." But this series' current season appears to be more stormy than its predecessors, because the leader seeks to destroy public trust in state institutions – the army, the police, the state prosecution, the courts, the media and academia – in an attempt to evade indictments against him and his wife, which are based on sickly miserliness, envy of the rich and yearning for admiration. The season is still in its first episodes, but spoiler alerts are already warranted: in the season finale, a new leader will sit on the throne.
What has Netanyahu achieved since returning to power eight-and-a-half years ago, the longest consecutive term for an Israeli prime minister in history? He has not given up a millimeter of land to the Palestinians or the Syrians – not even in empty words like Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert had – during which time the Palestinian national movement and the Syrian Ba'ath regime crashed. He perpetuated the Likud-established capitalist economy, but like Margaret Thatcher in Britain, did not confront the centers of power that survived the socialist era of Mapai. Strong workers' unions (port, electricity, Ben-Gurion International Airport) and the standing army maintained their economic strength. The policy of land allocation, which perpetuates the balance of social power in Israel, remains the same, as always justified by the need to perpetuate discrimination against the Arabs. The "Judaization of the State" has become the internal supreme value of the Netanyahu government, reflected in legislative initiatives to weaken democracy, portraying Arab society as a fifth column and opponents of the occupation as traitors and anti-Semites.
Netanyahu's most important decision during his current term, however, was his establishment of a right-wing government following the 2015 elections. In his previous two terms, Netanyahu behaved like Shamir – political toughness coexisting with the preservation of internal order. But after the 2015 elections, Netanyahu chose a coalition with Naftali Bennett instead of Isaac Herzog in order to realize the fantasy of "replacing the elites." A year later he repeated his choice, preferring Avigdor Lieberman over Herzog. With this, Netanyahu opted to be a prisoner of the extreme right, gradually removing the "centrist" from his personality and leadership, even though his policy enjoyed broad public support. These are the people who are now eagerly reading every article about state's witnesses and progress in the investigations against Netanyahu, and in their words – just go already.
Before the 2009 elections, in his quest to show that he was stately and centrist, Netanyahu used to say that his biggest mistake in his first term was forming a right-wing government instead of a unity coalition with Shimon Peres. If he really understood this, and he truly believes that state institutions are infused with perpetual hatred against him, why was he twice tempted – in 2015 and 2016 – to spend the rest of his reign in a hopeless war against elites instead of having a pleasant time in a shock-free unity government with Herzog and Tzipi Livni who vowed internal quiet, like Ehud Barak and Yair Lapid in the previous two governments?
In the time he has left between publishing angry posts against his interrogators and the New Israel Fund, Netanyahu should return to the history books, paying special attention to the unpleasant aftermath of his predecessors, the Hasmonean kings and Ben-Gurion. And alongside the versions he will tell his interrogators, he will begin writing the script for "Netanyahu, Epilogue."
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