Preparing for the Day After Netanyahu

We have to stop running superficial 'anti' politics and start cultivating deep 'for' politics. We need a creative 1,000-day program.

Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.Credit: Reuters
Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit

This week it happened: Benjamin Netanyahu completed 10 years as Israel’s prime minister. Apart from David Ben-Gurion, Netanyahu has spent more time at the helm of Israeli sovereignty than anyone.

But Netanyahu’s impressive achievement isn’t his only one. For about a quarter century this talented, haunted and controversial man has stood at the hub of Israel’s national existence. In 19 and a half of the past 23 years he has filled three positions – prime minister, opposition leader and finance minister – that have let him leave his mark on Israel and deeply brand the Israeli consciousness.

Whether you admire him or despise him, love him or loathe him, Netanyahu is part of us. He flows in our veins, influences our way of life and floods our thoughts. It’s hard to imagine a world that isn’t based on the constant collision between “only Bibi” and “anyone but Bibi.”

When Netanyahu first became prime minister, Helmut Kohl (remember him?) was chancellor of Germany. John Major (remember him?) was prime minister of Britain. Today, no Western (or Russian or Chinese) leader comes close to Netanyahu in the duration of his hegemony.

This dominance of one man exacts a heavy price. One example is the destructive effect on the opposition. Since 1996, the Israeli center-left has focused on one thing – to remove Netanyahu, to get him out of our sight.

But paradoxically, this anti-Netanyahu obsession serves Netanyahu and keeps him in power. It turns the struggle against him into something personal rather than ideological. It empties the fight against him of authenticity and relevance. It prevents the development of an alternative ethos to the one embodied by the incumbent prime minister.

Basically, the profound failure of the campaign against Netanyahu stems from its being a campaign against Netanyahu. It’s negative not positive, personal not national, cynical not Zionist. All it sees is the long-awaited day when the ruler is replaced by another.

But what will the day after Netanyahu look like? What will happen the year after Sheldon Adelson, Sara Netanyahu and Meni Naftali? The broad, vigorous anti-Bibi coalition has no conception. The center-left has no positive vision and no serious plan to fill the void.

So this is the reason Netanyahu’s rule goes on and on. Israel’s prime minister when Barack Obama was an anonymous lawyer in Chicago will probably be prime minister when Obama leaves the White House.

The problem is twofold. First, the negative anyone-but-Bibi agenda is pushing the day he’s replaced further into the future. Second, this narrow-minded agenda increases the risk that even when Netanyahu is replaced, chaos will ensue.

We can already imagine a scenario in which a year after the political upheaval finally happens, the gains will evaporate. In the absence of an alternative leadership and a creative 1,000-day plan, even if Netanyahu is replaced, he’ll return a moment later.

If not Netanyahu, then Naftali Bennett. If not Bennett, then Avigdor Lieberman. A government of change that hasn’t been properly prepared is likely to fail. Its days will be bitter and short.

So what can we do? We grow. We mature. We take responsibility. We stop running superficial “anti” politics and start cultivating deep “for” politics. We must stop living against Bibi and start doing for Israel.

Right now, we define and establish the good quarter of a century that will replace the bad quarter of a century that has brought us to the brink of the abyss.

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