Editorial

Netanyahu Has Lies, but Not a Policy

An honest leader would admit that he’s against annexation and help Israelis give up impossible and immoral dreams of sovereignty over the West Bank

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
\ NIR ELIAS/ REUTERS

Despite the police recommendations to charge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with bribery, the Trump administration is trying to convey business as usual regarding the peace plan. The message from the White House is that this is an “internal Israeli matter,” and as proof, Donald Trump and Netanyahu are to meet in Washington on March 5. But this doesn’t mean Washington hasn’t begun to realize who it’s dealing with.

Even before the recommendations were made public, Trump told the daily Israel Hayom that he was “not necessarily sure that Israel is looking to make peace.” Netanyahu can boast of his diplomatic achievements to his heart’s content, but the more time passes, the more the masks fall away and the disputes come to light, all of which stem from the same source: Netanyahu has no policy. As in the domestic arena, so too in the international arena, Netanyahu knows only how to divide and conquer. He can’t act for the good of anything but his own survival.

It’s hard to believe that anyone in Israel – certainly anyone on the settler right – was shocked to hear the White House’s sweeping denial of the lies Netanyahu sold Likud last week about discussions he was supposedly having with the United States over annexation of the settlements.

Why would he talk to the Americans about annexation when he himself is opposed to annexation? Last Sunday, who if not Netanyahu stopped the advancement of a bill to extend Israeli sovereignty to “settlement areas in Judea and Samaria,” submitted by MKs Yoav Kish (Likud) and Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi)? Or the bill to annex Ma’aleh Adumim? Or the bill to make the Jerusalem municipality responsible for the settlements around Jerusalem?

An honest and responsible leader would courageously admit that he’s against annexation and help Israelis give up impossible and immoral dreams of sovereignty over the West Bank. He would draw up a possible plan of secure existence that doesn’t involve military control over another people.

But Netanyahu has no diplomatic alternative, and the concept of responsibility is foreign to him. At home he prefers to foster the illusion of annexation – though he knows he’s leading Israel to disaster – just so as not to get into trouble with the right wing. At the same time, he thwarts that illusion, so as not to get into trouble with the Americans. He douses a diplomatic fire there and a security fire here, just to keep hold of his already wobbling seat.

Netanyahu’s insistence on remaining in office despite the police recommendations creates a golden opportunity for the settlers, above all Education Minister Naftali Bennett, to “propose” to Netanyahu a plan for “territory in exchange for an intact coalition.” That’s another reason the attorney general mustn’t delay his decision. The state can’t function under such a cloud.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.