Opinion

Why Netanyahu Is the Right Choice in Israel's Do-over Election

A woman places electoral banners for the Likud party in Be'er Sheva, September 15, 2019.
HAZEM BADER / AFP

Politics in Israel is like Hollywood: Just as every new movie is a sequel to the previous one and a prequel to the next one, this election (an Avigdor Lieberman production) is a sequel to the last election and a prequel to more elections. That is what could happen if the bloc of parties that supports Benjamin Netanyahu for prime minister does not garner the necessary majority to form a government, broad or narrow. (For the latest election polls – click here)

Before the previous election I published an article explaining why Netanyahu should be elected (Haaretz, March 16). All the reasons that were valid then are valid now, too, and even more so. Although there is room for improvement, Israel has never been in better shape – including from security, diplomatic and economic perspectives. The statistics also attest to the satisfaction of most of its citizens with their life here. This achievement should be chalked up first and foremost to the citizens, to those who are in charge of security, to the workers and the entrepreneurs, to business people, scientists, artists and cultural figures. But didn’t the man who has headed and navigated the state for the last decade have a major part in it?

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Netanyahu is not perfect. But a philosopher-king exists only in Plato’s writings. As Max Weber, the father of modern sociology and rationality, wrote a century ago, politics is not like other endeavors; it has rules of its own and people involved in this vocation must get their hands dirty. Weber differentiates between a responsible and an irresponsible leader. Netanyahu has demonstrated responsibility throughout his term in his security and economic decisions.

Netanyahu was among the first in the world to warn against the danger of Iran’s nuclearization and its aggressiveness – and Israel and the world may face new tests on this matter in the coming years that will require an experienced hand at the wheel and unusual diplomatic talent. Netanyahu has proven, and in fact proves every day anew, that he knows how to strike a balance between diplomacy and the security moves that Israel takes in various places, and the critical ties with the United States and Russia, the new tenant in the Middle East. He has significantly expanded Israel’s relations with other countries, including important parts of the Arab world, and with India, China, Japan, Vietnam as well as countries in Latin America and Africa.

On the Palestinian issue, which could gain momentum with the publication of President Trump’s “deal of the century,” Netanyahu’s approach is pragmatic and practical. As long as chaos persists in the Middle East and Islamist and terrorist forces are the ones setting the tone, this is not the time to nail down a solution to the Palestinian problem, in either a “one-state” or a “two-state” direction. The only principle that guides Netanyahu is Israel’s security, and the cruel logic in this is that without assurance of the state’s existence, all the other issues are in any case irrelevant.

Netanyahu is not a corrupt person, and not only in comparison to some of his predecessors. Like most politicians in the world he sometimes cuts corners. A cloud of suspicions hangs over him, which some people are trying to inflate, but a neutral observer could not help but get the impression that some of the accusations are quite ridiculous if not baseless baseless. And as one attorney with no connection to Netanyahu said in an interview, “It seems to me that the cases against Netanyahu are weak, and the timing of the revelation of decisions about them raises questions.” It may be added that not only the publications, but also the methods used to compel people to turn state’s witness, as was reported recently on Ynet, raise questions.

If Netanyahu has to answer to some of the charges in court, it is better that this be done after the end of his term as prime minister, in order not to hurt the continuity of government, the right of the public to choose its leaders, and the principle of the separation of powers. This should be handled the way other democracies do that are no less law abiding than Israel, such as the United States, Britain and France. The important principle of the separation of powers was a guiding light to the framers of the U.S. Constitution when they wrote that only the legislative branch, that is both houses of Congress, and not the court, can remove a sitting president, and even that is to be done gradually and based on serious allegations.

I am among the founders of Likud, in fact the only founder still involved. I am not at peace with everything happening today in the party that I helped found, and that is meant to represent the large camp from the center to the right based on the integration of national and liberal values and statesmanship. But in politics and in life itself one must choose between real alternatives, not imaginary ones. Netanyahu is the added value of Likud, and in this election votes must be cast unsentimentally and without prejudice.

Zalman Shoval is a former Israeli ambassador to the United States.