Israel’s Very Own Putin

There is not a smidgen of political or diplomatic reason to the Benjamin Netanyahu of recent months. He has been running the country as if it were a Greek tragedy, with an ending that is known in advance.

Amos Ben Gershom / GPO

Nearly two months after the outbreak of this summer’s war in the south, suddenly Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remembered to appropriate 4,000 dunams (just under 1,000 acres) of land in the Gush Etzion area of the West Bank.

What is this exactly, an annexation? No, it’s the arbitrary appropriation of an area that was in no way involved in the war. The land belongs to Palestinian villages. So why appropriate them? Is it that Netanyahu wants to punish Hamas? If so, from Hamas’ perspective, it’s old news. At this point, it’s busy with the reconstruction of Gaza and its organization’s political and military standing.

What is Netanyahu thinking? That he’s a kind of Russian President Vladimir Putin, annexing territory in Ukraine while thumbing his nose at the world? What does the Israeli prime minister want? To upset the Americans?

Yes, it’s that same Netanyahu who quarreled with Barack Obama, the Netanyahu who insults Secretary of State John Kerry, who irritates the Democrats and doesn’t consider the fact that there are also signs that Republicans are tiring of Israel. He’s sending Washington, D.C. the message that Obama shouldn’t be telling us how to deal with Hamas. Of course, we’re such heroes that when Obama delayed the shipment of Hellfire missiles to us for a time – to convince Israel not to kill women and children in Gaza – our stomachs were tied in knots.

There is not a smidgen of political or diplomatic reason to the Netanyahu of recent months. It’s all a matter of character. He hasn’t been advancing any policy other than things that create a residue of anger and a lack of trust. He has been running the country as if it were a Greek tragedy, with an ending that is known in advance.

The way he functions has several levels. He engages in self-defeating conduct and needless provocation. And that’s mainly over an issue on which extreme caution is warranted. This summer’s war was not waged against a country. It was not a war over occupied territory. Ultimately, the goal of the war was to strike at a terrorist organization that had taken control of the Gaza Strip and the ground underneath it. The goal was also to neutralize the murderers who have been hounding us.

So was Operation Protective Edge a success? There is a gut feeling that it was a missed opportunity – as if we paid our dues, a considerable amount of blood was shed and that, for whatever reason, Tel Aviv was spared at the high cost of the Iron Dome missile interception system.

The French-accented question former Knesset member and radio host Shmuel Flatto-Sharon would have asked – “What have you done for zuh country?” – also applies to the achievements of the Gaza operation.

The 2006 Second Lebanon War has provided eight years of quiet on the Lebanese border, and the 1973 Yom Kippur War led to peace with Egypt. On the other hand, it’s not yet clear what we have gotten from Protective Edge, if anything. If there will be no future regional diplomatic process – or, more precisely, a peace agreement – the day will come when we say that our casualties were all for naught.

Netanyahu has his sights set on the next election. He is starting to sweat as Yisrael Beiteinu’s Avigdor Lieberman and Habayit Hayehudi’s Naftali Bennett reap the political credit as supporters of Israel’s presence in the West Bank. This impression not only relates to the appropriation of land, but also to the threat the two pose for the prime minister.

His response is in the hierarchy he has set: “I and the defense minister [sic] have decided...” he would say. It is he, he, and he alone in first place. At one time, it was “the defense minister and I,” but now it’s “I and the defense minister.” Let there be no doubt, Netanyahu is King of Israel. Do you know of a prime minister who appropriates the authority of his defense minister? And now he’s also education minister, not giving credit to anyone else. Who knows, with the actual carrying out of the appropriation of land in the Gush Etzion area, it could be “I and the housing minister.”

The Gush Etzion appropriation is described as punishment for the murders of the three teenage yeshiva students in June. Hamas embraced the murders as its own on a retroactive basis, but Netanyahu’s own reaction was too late in coming. After three cease-fires and the current one subject to future negotiations in Cairo, Hamas has won the battle over public awareness.

Netanyahu’s Gush Etzion maneuver is like a stab in the back to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and Kerry and Obama. Now Netanyahu is acting like an über-defense minister, as well as education minister and foreign minister. The guns have fallen silent, but the dove of peace will not be heard. And that’s because our own Putin has put it in the freezer.