Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proved Monday that he is weak when confronted by his political rivals and succumbs easily to pressure and threats. The Israeli public sees once again that Netanyahu may bark but he doesn’t bite. He declared that he wasn’t fazed by the political pressure exerted by Naftali Bennett, which he called “false ultimatums,” regarding the bill to expropriate Palestinian land. But at the moment of truth Netanyahu folded and acted against the little that remains of his political conscience.
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He wasn’t strong enough to postpone a vote on a bill that he himself opposes, and which he once said could bring Israel before the International Criminal Court. Because of political pressure from an eight-seat Knesset faction, Netanyahu worked to advance a bill that even right-wingers concede is a “theft bill” and “a stain on our legal code.”
As is his wont in moments of weakness, Netanyahu is trying to divert the fire and direct it at the most convenient victim among the Israeli system’s usual political scapegoats – the Arabs, left-wing NGOs, the media, the High Court of Justice. Because Netanyahu plans this time to use the High Court as a human shield – hoping it will invalidate the expropriation law and prevent Israel from looking like a international serial criminal – he preferred to aim his barbs at a different target: the NGO, Breaking the Silence. After British Prime Minister Theresa May made it clear that her country was committed to the two-state solution, Netanyahu told journalists he had asked her government to stop funding the organization.
Great Britain is not the only country that isn’t operating according to the expectations of the Israeli right, which had interpreted the strengthening of the right internationally as a green light for Israeli state organized crime. The United States is also giving the impression that it will not welcome the loosening of Israel’s legal reins. “Friends don’t surprise each other,” Netanyahu said yesterday before coming back to Israel, after he had updated the U.S. administration about the plan to bring the Palestinian land expropriation bill to a vote. As if the issue is whether or not to tell our friend about the planned political crime, and not the actual crime that the Israeli government is legislating.
In his political weakness, Netanyahu acted against his political wisdom. In the new politics, in which the dominant language is that of power, and certainly as the leader of a country situated in a particularly sensitive area in the Middle East, it’s quite possible that he will pay a heavy diplomatic price for being unable to withstand pressure. If Netanyahu can’t stand up to Bennett, how will he represent Israel’s interests vis a vis its enemies? How does his flaccidity before a coalition rival make him look to leaders like U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin? And most important of all, what kind of leader is willing to work against the interests of his country just because he fears for his political life?
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.