Benjamin Netanyahu ( Bibi, by his nickname of childhood) was destined to triumph: son of a famous revisionist Zionist, Benzion, and brother of a soldier, Yonatan, killed in the events of the airport of Entebbe, who played such an important role for the Israeli imaginary, Netanyahu was born in a State of Israel already proclaimed. A decorated soldier who received a first class education in the United States, where he has spent many years of his life and has acquired an almost native level of English, which he intones with a serious and firm voice, in 1996 became the youngest prime minister of Israel, when the country had not just recovered from the murder of Isaac Rabin. He did not hold out much in the charge and was accused for the first time of corruption, but he was determined to return. He disappeared momentarily from the Israeli political arena in 1999. He would do so again in 2006, following a new electoral defeat. He reappeared nine years ago with all the lessons learned, which have allowed him to weather numerous storms throughout four mandates. The elections of 2015 were a paradigm of his political prowess : everyone considered him defeated, but he won with a victory and a mandate stronger than ever.
Netanyahu’s greatest ambition is to overcome in mandate, if not legacy, the founding father of Israel, David Ben Gurion . While the first task is within reach, it is not so clear that Netanyahu’s legacy can be remembered in terms as epic as that of the first head of government of the Hebrew country. Although it is difficult to distinguish the strokes of his long-term strategy, beyond maintaining the status quo, Netanyahu has stated on numerous occasions that his goal is to finish what Ben Gurion began to build, a strong State on three pillars : military, economic and diplomatic power.
Netanyahu wants to be remembered as “Defender of Israel. Liberator of its economy “. And although it is true that it has managed to transmit to some of the population a certain sense of stability and prosperity, unthinkable a few years ago, it is no less true that it has also sown the seeds of several future wasps. Israel’s military power is unquestionable, although the military advantage of what is now the most powerful army in the Middle East has been built thanks to large US aid. As far as the economy is concerned, Netanyahu has disposed of what little remained of the statist model of Mapai, promoting free market policies and consolidating Israel as a start-up nation whose foundations were laid by Ehud Olmert. Macroeconomic data have been on their side, but not the microeconomic ones, as evidenced by the massive protests in 2011 against the shortage of homes and the increasingly worse socio-economic conditions that some suburbs of Tel Aviv certify daily.
Diplomacy has been one of the main workhorses of Netanyahu, who had the opportunity to become an ambassador in this area as Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations. He rubbed shoulders in New York and Washington mainly with Republican representatives. No wonder his discouragement was forced to deal with his successive terms with Democratic presidents. His stormy relationship with Barack Obama was notorious . With him he clashed on numerous occasions, some of them publicly, on such momentous issues as how to deal with Iran’s nuclear ambitions and attempts to resume the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. It was, however, with Obama that the US agreed with Israel on the largest military aid plan in its history. The victory ofDonald Trump arrived as a balm, but for now and paradoxically, it seems to have contributed to tarnish his international legacy , constantly under the spotlight after the American recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Netanyahu has had more luck in other diplomatic arenas. The new Middle Eastthat emerged after 9/11 and, above all, the so-called Arab Spring has other priorities and demons in mind that have little or nothing to do with the future of the Palestinian people: Iran at the head of the “Axis of Resistance” and the Islamism fork, from the Muslim Brotherhood to the self-styled Islamic State. Netanyahu is proud of how Israel has been strengthening its ties with the Arab world (including a momentary rapprochement with Turkey) in areas such as trade or the exchange of intelligence, dangerously similar to a complete normalization of relations that the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 conditioned a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine.
Benjamin Netanyahu in the face of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
One of Netanyahu’s achievements has been to corner almost any reference to the peace process of the political agenda, both regionally and domestically. And this despite the two wars in Gaza and the various outbreaks of pseudo-intifadas. It is also true that events such as these allow him to emphasize the narrative according to which Israel has no partner for peace, with which he crowned the failure of the peace talks promoted by the Obama administration between 2012 and 2014. One of the points in common between Netanyahu and Ben Gurion is the belief that the conflict is not about the territory, but derives from the refusal of the Palestinians to accept a Jewish state. Netanyahu recovered this way the finished “iron wall” that coined Zeev Jabotinsky, ally of his father, to explain the absolute separation that must exist between Israelis and Palestinians.
Time has proved right, though perhaps for the wrong reasons, to some of Netanyahu’s criticisms of the initiatives of his predecessors: both the Oslo Accords and the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 (which made him antagonize Ariel Sharon), something that contributed in part to his coming to power in both 1996 and 2009. His famous speech at the University of Bar-Ilan in 2009, in which he accepted explicitly – albeit under a series of draconian conditions – the solution of two States became a booze when he stated that “there will never be a Palestinian state” on the eve of the 2015 elections. Although he has tried to retract his actions, particularly the unstoppable construction of settlements (currently there are more than 600,000 settlers between the West Bank and East Jerusalem), confirm this last position.
Source: El País
His speech in this area revolves around the mantra of autonomy: giving the Palestinians the possibility of governing themselves – or, rather, of controlling their population – without thereby giving up sovereignty over their territory, alleging the need that Israel has to defend itself. Netanyahu substituted the Labor concept of “peace for territories” for “peace for security”. Little by little, settlement after settlement, checkpoint after checkpoint, apartheid road after apartheid road, Netanyahu has shed light on the reality of a single State under Israeli sovereignty. It is in fact the first Israeli leader under whose mandate it is no longer taboo to speak of the annexation by Israel of certain parts of the West Bank (accompanied by population transfers to secure a demographic majority), and therefore to confront Israel with the question many of its citizens have been fearing for decades: will Israel become a binational state that dispenses with its Jewish character (if it guarantees equal rights among all its citizens) or its democratic character (if it allows a situation similar to that of the of an apartheid)?
Towards an Israel more polarized than ever
The biggest difference between Netanyahu and Ben Gurion derives from the capacity that both have had to create consensus among the Israeli population. Netanyahu is worshiped in certain circles: no matter how many corruption scandals he is involved in, the polls do not fail to point out that he would win any early election. He is hated in others, even theoretically close to his ideology (he is by all known his dismal relation with the president, Reuven Rivlin). A few leaves indifferent. Even so, many ordinary Israelis see him as the only one prepared to take the reins of the country. It has the unconditional support of the Mizrahi, of the Russian immigrants, of the Haredim, of those traditionalists marginalized for years by the Ashkenazi secularists, by the establishment , by the Yekkes (Jews from Europe) symbolized by the cosmopolitanism of Tel Aviv. Positioning himself as the eternal outsider (despite his elite education) eternally in opposition (despite having been in power for years), Netanyahu resorts to a victimizing strategy that accuses traitors to the left, to civil society, to the liberals … , and try to shape a new establishmentthanks to some means at your service (this is the case of Israel Hayom, owned by Sheldon Adelson ) and the increasing cooptation of a considerable number of public offices.
The revolution would be now that the left again dominate Israeli politics
Israeli society is more polarized than ever, as a result of the same “divide and conquer” strategy that dominates, among others, Trump: anyone who dares to question their decisions questions the very existence of the State of Israel, and is even suspicious of anti-Semitism. The demographic strength of the ultra-religious and the principle of separation that demonizes the Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line contribute to the ideological radicalization. Israel has turned to the right , an example of this is the own turn experienced in the center and center-left narrative. It has been 40 years since the emergence of the Likud party; it was then spoken of mahapakh(revolution). During this time, a member of the former hegemonic Labor Party has occupied the residence of the legendary corner with Balfour Street in Jerusalem for less than eight years. The revolution would be now that the left once again dominated Israeli politics.
It should be noted that this right has taken place in terms of policies (paradigmatic examples are the draft of the State of the Nation and the Law of regularization of settlements) and of mentalities, not in terms of seats. It has been largely a consequence of the fragmentation of the Israeli political arena and the ability of some extremist parties to hijack successive government coalitions. Netanyahu has defended surprisingly restrained positions over the past few years against leaders such as Neftali Bennet and Avigdor Liberman, both to save the face of the country against other countries and to temper the spirits in a coalition tinged with fanaticism. Some of his most controversial decisions, or changes of opinion – some of which have earned him the animosity of the world Jewish community – are the result of pressures from his ultra-Orthodox and pro-colonization partners, such as decisions on the prayer before the Wailing Wall, the presence of Haredim in the Army or, more recently, the agreement on the repatriation of African refugees.
Netanyahu and Abbas, hand in hand towards the sunset
At the end of his political career, Ben Gurion became a responsibility for his party, and was reviled by those he led to leadership. Everything indicates that Bibi will be the one who chooses when and how he will end his political career. The irony? Maybe the end of the mandates of Mahmud Abbasand Netanyahu are simultaneous. Both leaders have been holding the reins of their respective peoples for years, and the possibility that the respective eclipses leave behind a vacuum of power that only a spiral of violence could fill. Few inside and outside the territory of the old mandate of Palestine are, today, capable of imagining a future without Abbas and Netanyahu. And despite the continual accusations and criticism, perhaps there are not many who want to witness such a scenario.
Or maybe both Bibi and Abu Mazen designate their respective successors to keep everything the same, in a song of stability, but also to a status quo in nothing static. Until something changes and both peoples have to consider once and for all what is the future for which they are willing to give a helm, and answer the existential questions that many fear in Ramallah, Tel Aviv, Gaza and Jerusalem .
-ITXASO DOMÍNGUEZ DE OLAZÁBAL