When Israel launched Operation Guardian of the Walls last month, protesters outside the Jerusalem home of Benjamin Netanyahu said knowingly that the prime minister went to war for the sole purpose of thwarting a coalition to replace him. They claimed later that Netanyahu would continue his unrestrained attacks on the Gaza Strip until Yair Lapid’s mandate to form a government expired. But Netanyahu ended this needless and unsound Israel Air Force show in 10 days.
Now the government of Naftali Bennett is on the verge of taking office, but the Balfour Street protesters continue to spin tales of horror: The Netanyahus will refuse to leave the official residence; Bennett’s life is in danger; Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin will block the necessary vote to approve the new government; Netanyahu will bomb Iran; the end of the world is nigh. Similar prophecies of doom were voiced at the end of the term of his more dangerous ideological twin, Donald Trump, and most of those also did not come true. The former president retired to Mar-a-Lago, and Joe Biden is the man in the White House.
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Now Netanyahu can prove how hysterical, exaggerated and hollow the Balfour protest was: He must disprove the prophesies and show that the rumors of his clinging forcibly to his post are not only premature, but baseless, like quite a few other things attributed to the devil from Balfour. Now is the time to prove that the persecution of Netanyahu was crazy, as he and his supporters claim. This is the time to prove that Netanyahu knows, respects and follows the rules of the democratic game. This is the time for Netanyahu to make a dignified exit, to bow his head, wave goodbye and ride into the sunset, to the tears of his followers and the joy of his detractors.
Perhaps it’s legitimate to continue efforts to thwart the new government until the last minute and perhaps beyond it, but it is certainly no longer proper, because this is the hour for the most unstable government in Israel’s history to show its strength. A bitter taste has been left in the mouths of those who believe that Netanyahu should continue in office – and of course in his own mouth – and the fear of this government is a real fear. But now is its time, and Netanyahu must bow his head and recognize this fact. Twelve years as prime minister, filled with successes and failures, must end with a volley of salute, not with jeers. This week, Netanyahu must convene yet another press conference without the press and announce: I am vacating my post for my successor. He must call his supporters and party activists together and instruct them to cease all the campaigns and pressure to thwart the change, to stop the demonstrations near the homes of every Yamina lawmaker and the pressure on the rabbi of the synagogue the Knesset member attends. The curtain is falling.
A different person would have stepped down long ago. Half of the voters don’t want me? I’m out of here. A different person, as convinced as Netanyahu is of his innocence, would have stepped down in order to attend to his criminal trial. Netanyahu was cut from different cloth, and he has the right to continue his struggle from the back bench. He will certainly be a better opposition leader than he was in some of his roles as prime minister. The voice of opposition leader Netanyahu will be heard and taken more seriously than the voice of his predecessor, Lapid, in Israel and abroad – but first he must end his term in a way that does him honor. This is another reason to lower the flames against his successors.
History will judge Netanyahu, for good and for bad. He still has the power to influence it: An impressive departure from its stage will strengthen his image, not diminish it. This is the time to recognize that he no longer has the power to form a new government, that those he hates and who hate him have that power. Now is the time to make way for them. Not to “burn the country,” as his wife Sara once said, but prove that he is truly the man in whom his followers believe, and not the man described by those who detest him.
After that, who knows, perhaps Netanyahu will return. After that, who knows, perhaps the Bennett-Lapid government will surprise us in a big way, will have the grit to move ahead some courageous decisions for the future of this apartheid state. But now, Sara and Bibi, go home.