'Arab Hordes' Revisited: Bibi Moves to Stay in Power, No Matter What

He doesn't need peace. He doesn't even need quiet. He needs three more years, occupying his office. Occupying us. Nothing else matters. Nothing.

Bradley Burston
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Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu, shown here in cartoon form garbed in ermine-finished purple crowning himself, isn't as strong as one might think.
Like Elvis, Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu may be called "the King," but his powers are more finite than many think. Credit: Eran Wolkowsky
Bradley Burston

Nobody asked for this. No one asked for two months in which Palestinians have killed more than 20 Israelis in terror attacks, and Israelis have killed some 100 Palestinians, some of them for killing Israelis, more in clashes with troops, and some for no apparent reason.

This was not how the Israeli right wanted to see the conflict managed – least of all, Benjamin Netanyahu, whose approval ratings have plunged as terrorism and violent response have become a daily, even hourly staple.

These have been desperate times for the prime minister. The Churchillian pose he'd hoped would cement his legacy has given way to a bitter, huddled-over wariness. At this point, his focus is on the only legacy which may be left to him – longevity for its own sake.

He has now been prime minister for a total of nine years and nine months. To reach his goal of becoming the longest serving prime minister in Israel's history, Benjamin Netanyahu needs to exceed the 12 and a half years in office served by Israel's founding leader, David Ben-Gurion.

And that's it. That's all of it. Benjamin Netanyahu has made it abundantly clear to all of us, wherever we stand. He doesn't need peace. He doesn't even need quiet. He needs three more years, occupying his office. Occupying us. Nothing else matters. Nothing.

Last March, when a clearly anxious Netanyahu faced troubling last-minute election polls, he dropped his doomsday weapon onto the democratic process: the social media-disseminated specter of hordes of Arab citizens of Israel advancing, military-takeover style, on the polling places.

Nothing would get in his way. Even if it meant striking directly at the friable tissue of Israeli society. He would stay in office. Nothing else mattered.

That's why the prime minister poured his energy this week into pushing passage of two new lawseach tailored specifically to return him to power in the event that his government should fall before September 23, 2018, when his goal of outlasting Ben-Gurion is achieved.

One of the bills is designed to help win the next election. It would allow Israelis living abroad to vote in general elections. The legislation appears to be based on the twin assumptions that Israeli citizens overseas would likely vote heavily for Netanyahu and the right; and that the prime minister's mega-donor Sheldon Adelson – co-founder and driving force behind the recently established Israeli American Council as organization for the community of hundreds of thousands of expatriate Israelis – would do everything in his power to make sure that first assumption came true.

The other bill, called the governance law, aims at ensuring that if Netanyahu does win that election, he will face no hurdle in the person of President Reuven Rivlin, whom Netanyahu – and especially his First Lady – have treated abhorrently for years.

The bill would change the longstanding Israeli law under which Israel's president now decides who will form the new government. The new law would strip the president of that power and automatically give it to – wait for it – the leader of the largest party in the Knesset.

And there's more. The governance law would also increase the number of votes needed to unseat a sitting government in a no-confidence vote. At present, a 61-vote majority is required to topple a government.

And 61 votes are all that Benjamin Netanyahu has. In theory, if just two members of the ruling coalition decide to bolt, the present Third Netanyahu Government could be gone.

Three more years. That's all. Longevity for the sake of longevity. A place in the record book. That's all it is, and nothing else matters.

Not peace. Not security. Not Iran. Not democracy. Not an end to occupation. Certainly not equality.

To get to three years, Netanyahu needs a couple of tycoons, the ultra-Orthodox, the settlers, and the Likud Central Committee. That's all.

That's why in recent weeks, when ultra-Orthodox parties pressed Netanyahu to jump to alter 2014 military–service reforms, the prime minister asked "How high?" The answer, we learned last week, was a draft exemption for ultra-Orthodox men, until 2023. What's eight years, if all you need is three?

This also may explain Netanyahu's demand that tycoon Yitzhak Tshuva's natural gas monopoly reap a potential bonanza by locking in a handsome price for 15 years, with no regulation. What's 15 years, when all you need is three? 

And that's why settlement movement leaders are urging him – now of all times – to annex part of the West Bank. The world's attention is on ISIS terror and refugees, YESHA settlement movement founder Israel Harel wrote this week arguing for annexation. And even if the move draws attention, he continued, "one can assume that the world will get used to it, and over time will show understanding – perhaps even admiration – of Israel."

What doesn't Netanyahu need? This week, Netanyahu made clear that he doesn't need Europe. He ordered the Foreign Ministry to suspend contact with European Union institutions over all issues related to the peace process with the Palestinians, in response to the EU's decision to label products made in West Bank settlements.

Benjamin Netanyahu has made it all clear. He doesn't need the president of the United States, especially if his middle name is Hussein. He has no use for the president of Israel, either. Nor of the advice of the military, if it conflicts with the settlers. He has no need of negotiations, vision, solutions, or any genuine legacy of statesmanship. He need inspire neither confidence nor hope.

All he really needs is three more years. And Sheldon Adelson. 

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