For Netanyahu, winning over the center is more than a tactic

The opposition leader has shown he is capable of mercilessly attacking politicians on the left and then sidelining the ideological right.

Former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives at the District Court in Jerusalem for a hearing on May 31, 2022. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives at the District Court in Jerusalem for a hearing on May 31, 2022. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Nadav Shragai
Nadav Shragai
Nadav Shragai is a veteran Israeli journalist.

Don’t misjudge opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu again. He is intentionally targeting Israel’s political “center”—and no, this is not just a tactic. At the end of the day, once the outcome of the coming elections is clear, Netanyahu may prefer the “center” to his loyal partners on the ideological right, and toss aside those who crossed the opposition desert with him.

How do we know this is the case? It’s simple, really: Netanyahu has been here before. He has often preferred left-wingers and centrists as coalition partners over his natural and loyal allies on the right.

In 2009, Netanyahu partnered with the Labor Party, appointed then-Labor leader Ehud Barak as defense minister and left the right-wing National Union in the opposition. In 2013, he integrated Hatnua Party leader Tzipi Livni into the coalition and put her in charge of the Justice Ministry and diplomatic talks. He tried to leave Jewish Home and its leader Naftali Bennett outside the government, but an alliance between Bennett and Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid thwarted his plan.

Netanyahu came close to forming a coalition with one-time Labor head Avi Gabbay. His emissaries said he would have been willing to make Labor’s Shelly Yachimovich justice minister and appoint Amir Peretz as Israel’s president. In 2017, he offered Zionist Union head Isaac Herzog a unity government on the basis of a peace initiative centered on significant restrictions on construction in Judea and Samaria, territorial compromise and the two-state solution.

Netanyahu is capable of mercilessly attacking people like Livni and Barak and labeling them members of the “dangerous left.” Once the elections are over, however, he is able to find various excuses for integrating them into key positions in his government and sidelining the ideological right.

Netanyahu is a lot of things, some of them good and some of them less so. He is a multi-talented phenomenon who has known both achievement and failure. Netanyahu is not, however, representative of the ideological right.

Not convinced? Recall his support for the disastrous plan to disengage from the Gaza Strip in 2005 and the fact that he signed on to the Wye River Memorandum in the 1990s, giving up most of Hebron. Recall how he missed the opportunity of the century when he refrained from applying sovereignty to 30% of Judea and Samaria and the Jordan Valley and the fact that he released over 1,000 terrorists with blood on their hands in a deal to free Gilad Shalit and after.

In his speech at Bar-Ilan University in 2009, Netanyahu supported the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state. Over the years, he has either frozen or slowed Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem, and in the framework of talks with then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, was willing to cede large portions of Judea and Samaria, as revealed by Israel Hayom’s Ariel Kahana.

Do what you will with this information. You can excuse it, explain it away or justify it, but whatever you do, don’t call Netanyahu right-wing, because he is not.

It may be that, with the personal and political complications he has gotten himself into, the 2022 version of Netanyahu will not have an opportunity to choose between the right and the center-left. If, however, by some miracle, he manages to secure 61 Knesset seats, don’t be surprised if he once again abandons the genuine right. Because for Netanyahu, targeting the “center” is more than a tactic, it is the heart of the matter.

Nadav Shragai is an author and journalist.

This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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