The date is not far off: Israel will hold early elections on April 9, 2019. Many people—naturally speaking about a prime minister like Benjamin Netanyahu, who has served three times since 1996 (again in 2009 and from 2013) and 16 times at the head of various ministerial posts—describe the upcoming elections as the grand spectacle that will mark the great leader’s end of power. The opposition has drummed up accusations and criminalization; this is going to be all part of the 100-day campaign we are going to see. Actually, this seems to be one of its many mistakes. It’s an overblown continuous chat that people are unable to listen to anymore.
So, what will really happen in Jerusalem after the next election?
In the coming days, the judiciary will decide whether or not to accuse the prime minister of corruption, based on the investigations carried out in the storm of an intense press campaign.
Netanyahu, many commentators say, decided to dissolve the Knesset in order to raise a smokescreen about it; some close associates were reported to have said that he would not resign from office if indicted or during the trial. But dramatic as an indictment could be (the main accusation is to have offered favors to Walla, an online journal belonging to the national telephone network Bezeq in exchange for favorable coverage), it is not an accusation of infamous nature, especially because Walla has never actually been kind to Netanyahu. Moreover, as the famous American lawyer and Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz said, after studying the corruption charges against Netanyahu, “There’s no evidence to indict him.”
The arguments that the Israeli left are putting forth in the upcoming election are all quite questionable. The accusation of Netanyahu having put all his eggs in one basket—that of President Donald Trump, while he decided to withdraw the U.S. troops from Syria—according to his detractors, marks the failure of a foreign policy that relies too heavily on the current U.S. president. However, Israel doesn’t seem worried. It attacked five posts of Iran and Hezbollah in Syria last week without any problems, and many commentators (like Ruthie Blum on these pages) argue that in reality, Trump’s move in Syria doesn’t affect his unwavering support for Israel, as he himself affirmed.
Netanyahu, who left for Brazil on Friday in order to attend the Jan. 1 inauguration of the president-elect Jair Bolsonaro, as well as for a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, underlined his successful diplomacy with this move right at the beginning of the election campaign. He has had many other gains as well. The most important result has been the transfer of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem on May 14, 2018, and the prospect of at least six other countries following suit. Meanwhile, Sunni Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and several Gulf States have opened their doors to Israel, as have those of Far Eastern countries (first and foremost, India and China), along with African ones. Even in Europe, a positive front has opened up with many friendly ex-Communist countries.
The Israeli economy flourishes, with a per capita income of at least $42,000, and Israeli advancements in technology, medicine, agriculture and its knowhow in the fight against terror that is unparalleled.
According to polls, Likud—the only secular and “securest” party—maintains a massive lead. If Netanyahu wants to silence his legal troubles, he must not underestimate that his enemy pretends to see in him as a want-to-be dictator when he promotes the vote, as in any other nation-state, of a constitution that declares Israel a Jewish state; and portrays him as weak when he refuses to attack Hamas and a war-monger when he fights Iran. His innate drive is identity and security; he has chosen that his legacy will be to avert the existential threat posed by Iran and to create a secure situation with the Palestinians without falling prey to any illusions. When he was in Sayeret Matkal—the elite special forces unit of the Israel Defense Forces in which his older brother, Yonatan Netanyahu, also served before losing his life in “Operation Entebbe” in 1976—he dealt with all facets of terrorism, and this, in addition to economics, is what interests him. He recognizes the existential danger, physical and ideological, that the Jewish state has to fight day after day. This makes him a statesman, and that is something different from a politician.
His enemies have committed the mistake of trying to attack him head-on, and to demonize him while having no other program but that of continuing to believe in concessions, which have all been unequivocally rejected by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.
The left has paid a deadly price by following this line, and it is painful to hear Tzipi Livni presenting the idea of finding an agreement with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, who has refused any so many times. The only opponent out there seems to be: Benny Gantz, the handsome and intelligent former IDF chief of staff who founded the new political party Hosen L’Yisrael (“Resilience for Israel”).
It is so indicative of the situation that a public figure with no political history is enemy No. 1 of a protagonist like Bibi Netanyahu—a lion by day, a fox by night.
Journalist Fiamma Nirenstein was a member of the Italian Parliament (2008-13), where she served as vice president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Chamber of Deputies, served in the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, and established and chaired the Committee for the Inquiry Into Anti-Semitism. A founding member of the international Friends of Israel Initiative, she has written 13 books, including “Israel Is Us” (2009). Currently, she is a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
Translation by Amy Rosenthal.