An Overwhelming One-man Theater Performance by Benjamin Netanyahu

During a four-hour closed door meeting with members of the Haaretz editorial staff, Netanyahu lectured, preached and demanded. At one point someone saw tears in his eyes.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a special cabinet meeting to mark Jerusalem Day on June 16, 2016.
Mark Israel Selam, Jerusalem Post, Pool photo

There’s an agitated man sitting in the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem; a man who’s frenetic, powerful, unbending, convinced of the righteousness of his cause. A man who believes only in force. He has tendencies toward megalomania and narcissism; he is arrogant, boastful and haunted. This man is full of contradictions, as is the impression that he leaves. For better or worse, it is a strong impression.

The man has elements of a biblical or Shakespearean tragic figure, a king or a Caesar, including the dramatic elements – the wife (who isn’t mentioned,) the father’s shadow and the loss of a brother. He is motivated by ideology far more than is commonly ascribed to him, and this ideology is inflexible and extreme. It will never allow him to compromise on matters important to him.

Sitting in the Prime Minister’s Office is a man bringing a major disaster upon Israel, not because of the Zionism commonly attributed to him, but because of ideology. Personally, I prefer rigid ideologues to hollow cynics.

I can only tell you this: Two days ago, Benjamin Netanyahu hosted members of the Haaretz editorial staff for a closed conversation that lasted four hours, during which he spoke without interruption. “Spoke” is a rather restrained understatement; Netanyahu lectured, preached, demanded and overwhelmed; he showed videos, slide presentations, maps, tables, and minutes.

He scribbled a self-portrait, with an elongated nose and beads of sweat; he pounded on the table, raised his voice, lowered it, leaned forward and back in the meeting room, wrote on the board and erased. At one stage, he approached my colleague Odeh Bisharat so angrily that I feared for his safety. At another point someone saw tears in his eyes.

It was a Netanyahu performance, authentic theater, a one-man show by a character actor who so closely identifies with the figure that he plays with such talent that at least some members of the audience believed him some of the time. Perhaps he is an effective Evangelist preacher. It started with the terror tunnels; what followed regarding his economic achievements was more boring, until he got to his diplomatic beliefs. It ended with a crescendo; a final monologue about his dead brother. Curtain. The Energizer remained in his seat, alone and exhausted, naturally.

In the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem there sits a man who believes solely in the power of his country. Weakness devastates him. Morals, values and justice are not within his realm of thought. He portrays his country as a world power in weapons, cyber, water technology and whatnot, and in the same breath lists the existential threats lurking (“In the air, at sea, on the ground and under it”) from the ragamuffin army in Gaza, from Hezbollah, from Iran and even from forest fires.

There’s no way to resolve this contradiction. He doesn’t believe in any peace with the Palestinians; he will defeat them with the alliances he is weaving with his new friends, the ephemeral heads of corrupt regimes in the Arab world, until they agree to the non-arrangement he proposes, which of course will never happen. The fate of the Palestinians doesn’t interest him in the least.

Netanyahu is not a warmonger – he may be the most antiwar prime minister Israel has ever had – and even the settlements don’t interest him very much, if at all. Only power – military, economic and technological. Peace won’t bring any economic benefits to Israel, he says. Like all veterans of the Sayeret Matkal special forces unit, he’s a kid who’s never grown up; his imagery is stuck back in “the unit,” with touches of MIT.

Based on the colors of his map of the world, it’s almost all in our hands. After meeting with 144 statesmen, all that’s left is a problem with Western Europe. Everyone else is on our side, or almost there (and I believe that he’s quite right.) After we left his office, he passed us on the way to his car, waving at us with a half-cigar in a defiant gesture full of self-deprecating humor.

Netanyahu is here to stay. Given the current proposed alternatives, we may even, God forbid, come to miss him.