Opinion

Long Live King Bibi

Netanyahu at a government meeting in Jerusalem, August 1, 2019.
Emil Salman

U.S. President Donald Trump, according to many media reports, will soon unveil his deal of the century. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is also presumably urging that the plan, which he co-authored, be unveiled at the best time for him – before September’s election. That would force all the parties’ campaigns to focus on the diplomatic issue rather than on his ethical and legal problems, which his rivals would prefer.

And who says there’s no Russian intervention in Israel’s election? Russian President Vladimir Putin evidently isn’t leaving Trump alone in his support for Netanyahu; he, too, plans to join the party. According to Channel 12 television, Putin will visit Jerusalem in September. The pretext is the inauguration of a memorial to those who fell in the Siege of Leningrad in World War II.

Netanyahu will be portrayed, with considerable justice, as someone with influence over the world’s most important leaders, someone without parallel in his stature as a statesman. Someone who, during his tenure as prime minister, has outshone even David Ben-Gurion.

>> Read more: 13 years, 128 days and counting: Netanyahu surpasses Ben-Gurion. But what's his legacy? | Analysis

But media reports about the plan’s unveiling, like statements by Trump and his aides that “both sides will have to make painful concessions,” haven’t sufficed to sever the dependence on Netanyahu that leaders of parties to the right of his Likud have developed. Habayit Hayehudi chairman Rafi Peretz, despite knowing what the plan contains, promised to recommend that the president task Netanyahu with forming the next government.

Peretz was even willing to cede Ayelet Shaked the top slot on the United Right joint ticket on condition, which he deemed non-negotiable, that she and Naftali Bennett also promise to recommend Netanyahu. They capitulated and committed themselves, and the United Right was on its way.

Thanks to the United Right, President Reuven Rivlin will indeed tap Netanyahu to form the government. But the governing coalition he forms, which will revolve around accepting the Trump plan, will be based on Kahol Lavan and Labor. The ultra-Orthodox, his loyal partners, won’t be abandoned by him. Shas, one of the heroes of the Oslo Accords, will have no problem with Abu Dis as the capital of Palestine.

Joining a coalition that includes Yesh Atid co-chairman Yair Lapid will be many, many times more difficult for the ultra-Orthodox than giving up parts of the Land of Israel, including Jerusalem. But in exchange for “saving the Torah world,” some solution will be found – mainly through the Finance Ministry – to their vow not to sit in a government with him.

And Lapid? He’ll explain why it’s important to focus on “the main issue” and not insist on the new conscription law (which isn’t actually a conscription law) or on not abandoning the public square to the whims of the ultra-Orthodox. His colleagues in Kahol Lavan will also swallow their hatred for Netanyahu. Some redeeming formula that will let them sit in a government with the man they promised never to sit with will be found.

Nothing is holier than territorial concessions. After all, as we know, sovereign Israel was blessed with an abundance of territory. And if “peace” is also mentioned in the coalition agreement, all the vows and oaths against Bibi will be considered null and void. They will thereby also save Israel from the punishment of people like Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir, as they will say in offering their excuses.

In 2012, Time magazine devoted a cover story to Netanyahu. The title was “King Bibi.” This year, that title was repeated by the Economist, an even more serious, important weekly. Is it possible that the editorial boards of foreign publications – whose staff can view things in perspective and are less emotionally involved than their colleagues in the Israeli media – can see things from there that we don’t see from here? Perhaps.

But in any event, until the left (and the right) run a candidate of comparable stature against him, Netanyahu’s reign – unless the courts decide otherwise – is assured for many years to come.