Tycoons Pressing for Peace Deal to Protect Their Wallets

Boycotts are threatening the wealthy so they're coming out of the political closet to press Netanyahu to cut a deal with the Palestinians.

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The “Bibi, only you can do it” campaign exposed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s clandestine coalition of undeclared supporters who have come out of the political closet under pressure.

It turns out that there is a human chain along the length and breadth of the political map in Israel that agrees on one thing: Netanyahu is the one. The members of this chain are not organized as a political group. Their common denominator is their wealth (“executives of the Israel's economy,” as they describe themselves), but all of them, right, center and left, support Netanyahu and declare that there is no political alternative to him.

Although this is a campaign in support of a peace agreement, its authors made an effort to stay neutral. Although the signatories call to reach an agreement, they suggest not what it would look like. They also emphasize that they come from all sides of the political spectrum. They seem to have done everything possible to make sure the move won’t be regarded as political.

And in fact, this is not a political act. It is a business initiative made by business executives, whose objective is to protect their wealth from the sanctions and boycotts that threaten it. A peace deal that is a business deal. To them its significance is in the act of signing, and the details are less important. Netanyahu is like an employee in their business; it makes no difference what he thinks, because in the negotiations he represents the firm, or in other words, he represents them.

They know from experience that Netanyahu will ensure the money will continue to change hands only among the wealthy. That’s why they want to strengthen him. Like a board of directors, they are clearly signaling to him what he must do. He must fight at all costs – even at the cost of peace – against sanctions and boycotts that threaten to topple the wall that he built for them. The wall that separates them from most of Israel’s citizenry, for whom the cost of living is an existential issue.

The campaign reveals the basic value its supporters hold: money. That is their sole criterion for assessing the situation in various matters: politics, ethics, art, and education. It’s simple: Money is good, and therefore what turns a profit is good, and what causes a loss is bad.

Paradoxically, this is the first time that Bibi’s rule is really in peril. The rich under Bibi can will condone anything: occupation, wars, expelling foreigners, social gaps, corruption, poor education and social services – except when it comes to their wallets. Boycotts? Sanctions? Abrogation of contracts? Losses? Stop right there. Apparently there’s something wrong with the “conflict” and the time has come to sign an agreement quickly.

The free market model, according to which everyone sees to his own interests and ignores the common good while an invisible and unbiased hand – that is, one that is blind and morally indifferent – will see to the common good, is the model that has percolated down to politics. The market economy sought to separate the economy from the state. For a long time we have been witnessing a similar process in politics, whose clearest expression is the privatization of public services such as health and education.

The citizen has become a consumer. He can only grasp the concept of the state through the analogy of a business, one in which the prime minister is the CEO. It’s a process that aims to separate politics from the state. The new politics aspire to be apolitical. Of course the significance of such a process is the doing away with the political, or in other words, the doing away with the possibility of determining our identity as individuals and as a nation, and of shaping our society and our future together.

The idea that “Only Bibi can do it” reflects of the process of depoliticization undergone by Israelis, during the course of which they stopped believing, for example, that the prime minister can be replaced. That is the only explanation for the fact that people who define themselves as left and center are willing to delegate Bibi the authority to sign a peace agreement, as though it makes no difference who will represent the country under such an agreement and what kind of spirit he will bring with him to the negotiating table. Only depoliticization can explain the fact that the “great leader” who emerged from the social justice protest was Yair Lapid.

The problem is that Netanyahu’s apolitical coalition is far broader than the circle of those who signed the support campaign. Anyone who got rich under Netanyahu’s leadership at a time when most of the country became poorer; anyone who got a promotion at a time when his colleagues were fired, anyone who received grants, budgets, prizes and publicity at a time when others were excluded – all of them belong to Netanyahu’s coalition, whether or not they admit it. The coalition of those who profited from his administration is what has been keeping Netanyahu in power for so many years.

In that sense, the ballot, which most of the members of Netanyahu’s clandestine coalition gave to another party, is nothing more than a political alibi of no electoral significance. Because what is keeping Netanyahu in power is not his electorate, but all those who are willing to turn a blind eye to the continuing injustice being done to our neighbors, to the collapse of the social foundations on which the state was built and the shattering of the dreams we had about the society in which we would live.

The rich under Bibi turn a blind eye in order to maintain or increase their wealth. Their goal is to guarantee a future for their children, their grandchildren and their great-grandchildren, and they are forgetting that the reality they will bequeath to them will be of no value.

But we must not forget that a society for whom the aspiration to justice is not a cornerstone will soon reach its expiration date, and the efforts of its business leaders to insure themselves will not help. As U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said, they are living under an illusion of prosperity. We can only hope that when the illusion shatters and we wake up to a terrifying reality, we will once again recall the emancipatory power of politics.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, February 17, 2014.Credit: AP

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