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In the Twilight of Netanyahu’s Tenure

Israel Harel
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds up the document after participating in the signing of the Abraham Accords where the countries of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates recognize Israel, at the White House in Washington, DC, September 15, 2020.
Benjamin Netanyahu holds up the document after participating in the signing of the Abraham Accords where the countries of Bahrain and the UAE, at the White House, September 15, 2020. Credit: SAUL LOEB - AFP
Israel Harel

While the aura of his rule fades due to his moral and personal decline, Benjamin Netanyahu is enjoying some diplomatic glory. Just a few months ago, the leading commentators were saying he wanted to go down in history as the person who annexed part of Judea and Samaria. Turns out they were wrong. Attaining peace accords with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain are more important to him, even if it means an end to any hope of applying Israeli law to the Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria.

You have to be a total sourpuss to sneer at what took place Tuesday on the White House lawn. The detractors on the left, who accused him of selling out the Palestinians, were joined by plenty of disappointed rightists, who accused him of selling sovereignty in Judea and Samaria for normalization that already existed in practice.

The ideological right, despite all of its bitter experience with Netanyahu, has never read him correctly, and therefore has yet to abandon him. Netanyahu has a clear strategy: obtaining recognition of Israel from the moderate Arab states. One stage of this was achieved on Tuesday. To achieve this objective, he periodically tosses out empty promises of massive construction in Judea and Samaria and the freeing-up of building plans in Jerusalem. Then, in secret contacts with these countries, he agrees to freeze or totally cancel what he promised his political camp.

Many believe he never truly intended to apply Israeli sovereignty to settlement areas in Judea and Samaria or in the Jordan Valley. He used the “deal of the century,” which he came up with and for which he enlisted the support of the White House, to forgo it for the sake of the normalization accords. That way he could claim that the UAE and Bahrain were the ones who stopped the annexation to keep alive the possibility of a Palestinian state in the future.

Countries put their own interests first, of course. But the deeper reason that Egypt (and later Jordan) made peace with Israel stemmed from its devastating defeat in the Yom Kippur War. That’s when the understanding sank in that if you can’t vanquish Israel in a massive surprise war on two fronts, best to extract some benefit from recognizing its existence. If not for Israel’s power, if not for the Jewish state’s mighty military, scientific and economic accomplishments, no Arab state would ever be persuaded to act this way.

Indeed, it is power, not justice, that is advancing recognition of Israel in this obstinate part of the world. Yoav Sorek, editor of Hashiloach, argues that the recent move validates the “Iron Wall” principle once more.

This week presented another reminder that the naïve and conciliatory strategy led by the governments of Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak led to catastrophic loss of life, internal upheaval and the political effacement of the camp that they led. What happened on Tuesday proved that adopting the path of restraint and weakness – a consequence of guilt feelings planted by outlandish schools of thought, including anti-Zionist ones, in the Israeli public consciousness – brought nothing but despair, disaster and failure. Traces of this weak attitude can still be found among the military and civilian leadership in the campaigns that Hamas and Hezbollah challenge us with.

In domestic policy, Netanyahu is a divisive schemer. Which is why he has been such an abject failure in that department. The farce of the lockdown that starts Friday marks the pinnacle of this failure. But in foreign policy, his achievements are noteworthy. No other Israeli figure comes close to matching his grasp of the American side and his ability to manipulate its leaders to achieve his own strategic goals.

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