The Bibi Show Continues

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Benjamin Netanyahu at Ben-Gurion International Airport, last month.
Benjamin Netanyahu at Ben-Gurion International Airport, last month. Credit: Moti Milrod
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

He’s known Joe Biden for 40 years, “and we have an excellent relationship,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu likes to tell everyone who asks why the U.S. president hasn’t called him yet. Perhaps it’s because Biden indeed knows Netanyahu for 40 years that he isn’t rushing to call him.

Netanyahu prefers to read the relationship temperature in Fahrenheit, while Biden would rather read the scale in Celsius – 32 degrees Fahrenheit is zero degrees Celsius. The chill wafting from the White House is not just settling the score with Netanyahu’s assault on Congress, or with the premier’s gross harassment of President Barack Obama while Biden was his vice-president. It’s a silence akin to a situation report; a spit that’s not rain, and this is even before the storm begins.

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Netanyahu is in good company. Biden hasn’t called the Saudi Arabian king and his omnipotent crown prince, Mohammed Bin Salman, either. Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan is also waiting tensely for a call, and Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi of Egypt, the first Arab leader to congratulate Biden on his election, is expecting a slap in the face. Until he gets the call, it is not superfluous to note that Bibi has stopped making Jerusalem his chief joy, and is doing his best to conceal his national achievement of having had former U.S. President Donald Trump recognize Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights. Those gifts have been carefully wrapped and stashed in a drawer as if they were unreported bonuses.

Only peacemaking with Arab states continues to star in his election campaign slogans, though Arab leaders, from Morocco to the United Arab Emirates, are beginning to wonder if they weren’t sold a bill of goods. The deal to sell F-35 warplanes to the UAE has been frozen, and it isn’t clear to the Moroccan king whether Biden will uphold the annexation of Western Sahara to his country. Sudan has been removed from the list of terror-supporting countries, but now fears that frigid Netanyahu-Biden relations will influence the decision to give it the assistance it expects. Only the rift with Jordan remains stable.

The man who portrays himself as being in a different league is causing damage. Not only has he dismantled the bastion of support for Israel in the Democratic party, alienated American Jewry and led European leaders to see him as unreliable, not to mention a liar, he is also flying at high speed on a collision course with the U.S. administration with regard to Iran. From his storeroom he keeps pulling out that ostensibly fateful question, “who can withstand international pressure?” In other words, who other than he is capable of answering the fateful call when the U.S. president does pick up the telephone?

For now this is a hypothetical question because the president isn’t calling, but it’s worth remembering that Netanyahu is not a stellar example of a leader who resists pressure, especially when it comes from the United States. Who was it that put off imposing sovereignty on the West Bank following American pressure, even before the peace agreement with the UAE took effect?

Wasn’t the defeat of the Chinese company in the tender for the Sorek 2 desalination plant the result of heavy American pressure? Would Netanyahu dispatch bombers to Iran if Biden decides this would undermine the chances of achieving the nuclear agreement that he seeks? And does anyone even remember the Wye Agreement, which Netanyahu signed and which led to an Israeli withdrawal in Hebron after pressure exerted by President Bill Clinton?

There are those who are impressed by Netanyahu’s elasticity and see it as an opportunity for American pressure to get Israel out of the territories. They prefer to forget that he’s the one who dragged Israel into a situation in which it must cope with such pressure, instead of conducting an intelligent policy based on understanding the limitations of his power. The Elastiboy that’s now handcuffed by Itamar Ben-Gvir, Betzalel Smotrich, and perhaps also Naftali Bennett, would prefer to opt for a war with the United States if it means the show called “The Incumbent Prime Minister” will continue its run.

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