Netanyahu, Man of Peace

It’s doubtful a single other Israeli politician would have gotten through the past six months without sending the troops to Gaza for another round of useless bloodshed

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a weekly cabinet meeting, August 12, 2018.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a weekly cabinet meeting, August 12, 2018.Credit: Emil Salman
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

Let’s give the emperor his due. In the sea of hatred that surrounds us and the rising criticism of Benjamin Netanyahu, it’s permissible, even compulsory, to point out his policies' bright spots. To the dismay of his noisy chorus of enemies, such bright spots actually exist.

The greatest of them? Netanyahu isn’t a warmonger. Events of recent months have proved that anew. The enemy of half the country is one of the most pacifist prime ministers we’ve ever had, with a balance sheet of just one initiated war in his dozen years in power.

Netanyahu’s predecessor, Ehud Olmert, a much more obvious man of peace, launched two wars in his three years in office, two of them unnecessary losses when there were other options. So let’s cheer for the emperor, at least in this regard; he has prevented bloodshed – no mean feat in Israel.

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In his sea of failures, among all the damage he has done, his balance sheet is illuminated brightly by this fact. It’s doubtful a single other Israeli politician would have gotten through the past six months without mobilizing the troops and sending the planes to Gaza for another round of unjustified and useless bloodshed.

The right wing has pummeled and badgered him as it is wont to do, urging him to strike, kill, destroy and obliterate. Israelis who live near Gaza have pressured him to avenge the flames from the airborne firebombs; even the center and the so-called left have pressed him to do something, which in Israel always means something bellicose, urging him to do something “decisive.”

Every Friday night it seemed war would erupt the next Sunday morning. Netanyahu stood his ground. Whatever his motives, he has averted bloodshed, the blood of soldiers and thousands of helpless civilians who would have been massacred as during the army’s previous offenses. They  owe their lives to Netanyahu.

Perhaps he learned a lesson from his only war, Operation Protective Edge in 2014, and its thousands of unnecessary deaths. That conflict ended just as all Gaza offenses do: with nothing.

But drawing logical lessons from experience is a rarity among Israeli prime ministers. We’re allowed to suspect Netanyahu of having ulterior motives – preparing for a war in the north or an insane conflict with Iran, or selfish political reasons. But the hell with motives: After months of travails for the residents of Gaza-border communities, Netanyahu hasn’t opted for a war of revenge.

Despite his bully of a defense minister, a warmongering education minister and the pushing and salivating by the so-called left-wing media to launch yet another war, Netanyahu didn’t act like Netanyahu. The person who folded like a sheet of paper before a small group of noisy and racist people in south Tel Aviv over a UN-proposed asylum-seeker arrangement stood like a lion against the war coalition, with the help of the army’s chief of staff. He must be honored for that.

And the result: Reports over the weekend of a deal, similar to those achieved after every war, with just one small difference: This time the requisite stage for Israeli revenge seekers – war – was averted. Unfortunately, the reasons to praise Netanyahu are limited. Despite avoiding war the prime minister didn’t have the courage to take the critical step to resolve the Gaza issue.

He clearly understands that force won’t resolve anything, but he hasn’t dared take the necessary subsequent steps: release Gaza and talk to Hamas. Qatari money is nice, oil tankers are essential, but these are only band aids for a region in disaster. Netanyahu knows this and doesn’t do anything about it.

How lovely it is to praise Netanyahu for his restraint, but too bad he doesn’t plan to continue along the surprising road he has chosen. He’s not yet a man of peace, as the seductive title would have it; apparently he never will be. But he’s also not a man of war. In his Israel, this provides some comfort.

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