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Triumphant over flotilla, Netanyahu is stronger than ever

With no threat from his political rivals and no pressure from Washington, the Israeli PM is enjoying the best weeks of his career. Yet his rightwing politics are likely to bring a much bigger change than his supporters care to imagine

Politics as troubleshooting. Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu (photo: Masa Israel Journey / flickr)

If Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu could have one wish, I guess it would be to conduct general elections tomorrow. Between the cheers of his obedient followers in Congress and his success in preventing the Gaza-bound flotilla from sailing to the Strip, the Israeli prime minister is enjoying the best weeks of his term, possibly of his entire career.

Unlike in the first two years of his term, Netanyahu finally seems in control. The Greek decision to prevent the flotilla from sailing has taken everyone by surprise, but as it turned out, the PM has been preparing the ground for some time.

Haaretz quoted yesterday  an Israeli diplomat saying that Netanyahu “Netanyahu has become Greece’s lobbyist to the European Union.”  Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou returned the favor yesterday: As the American boat “Audacity of Hope” was about to leave the port of Athens, the authorities issued an order prohibiting all flotilla vessels from sailing. It is very unlikely that the Greeks would have dared stopping a Canadian or American ship without permission from their respective governments, so one could speculate that other administrations–and most notably, Washington—stood by Netanyahu’s side. For a politician often portrayed as hated and despised by world leaders, this is no small thing.

The Israeli morning papers are likely to praise the Prime Minister tomorrow. Netanyahu’s numbers are will go up again, and his coalition will become safer than ever before. Unlike in his first term, Netanyahu is now able to communicate his messages both to the center and to his base on the Israeli right. Politicians around Netanyahu recognize that. On Friday, dovish Likud minister Dan Meridor backed the PM in an interview to Maariv – and he is just one of the former rivals who now praise Netanyahu.

Kadima, the Knesset’s biggest party, failed so far to produce its own agenda, and its leader, Tzipi Livni, was revealed as a shallow politician. Besides repeating talking points regarding government policies, Livni did not make one substantial move that would challenge the government. Furthermore, the fight over Labor leadership has taken the predictable ugly turn, ensuring that the winner will get a fragmented and bitter party that would make his life miserable and suffer another blow at the elections.

Defense Minister Barak polls zero Knesset seats, which means he depends on Netanyahu for his political survival, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman waits the Attorney General’s decision regarding his corruption charges, and Shas’ Eli Yishay is too busy with the return of former party leader Aryeh Deri to cause the PM any trouble. As far as Netanyahu can see, the horizon is clear.

Netanyahu might be the strongest Israeli PM in the last two decades—stronger than Sharon and Rabin—despite not having their IDF record, charisma or leadership skills. He is for sure the best survivor: General elections are due to take place on autumn 2013, and by then, Netanyahu will be the longest serving Israeli PM since David Ben-Gurion.

Yet the Middle East has a strange way of turning your victories against you. Netanyahu has no vision, and his politics resemble troubleshooting. It’s no wonder that his goals are the subject of an endless guessing game.

It seems that ultimately, Netanyahu wishes to secure Israeli control over as much as possible of the West Bank, understanding that he won’t be able to control it all forever. If that is the case, his policies are likely to backfire: It was Netanyahu’s rejectionism that got the world’s attention to nature of the occupation; it’s his backing of the settlements that will ensure Israel is unable to force a quasi-state on the Palestinians (since there will be no room left for even this kinda of a state); it’s Netanyahu’s successful manipulation of the US Congress that proved the limits of the administration’s and the State Department’s ability to serve as an honest broker between Palestinians and Israelis and left Jews in the States torn apart and bitter; and it’s his coalition’s anti-democratic legislation that shows the need to an overhaul reform regarding the Jewish character of the Israeli state.

In short, The Prime Minister is winning every battle on his way to lose the entire war. As long as his poll numbers are high and his republican backers are happy, I guess he would be the last to care.

One final note: While everyone’s eyes were on the Greek ports, the people of Bil’in celebrated the removal of the security barrier erected by Israeli on their land six years ago. Back then, the thought that a few hundred villagers will be able to defeat the Israeli military establishment seemed delusional; now everybody is talking about the challenge of a Palestinian unarmed revolt. There are undercurrents at play which are not always easy to detect, and this is a lesson Netanyahu and his shortsighted admirers would do well to remember.

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    1. I wish someone would write here on the ways that the flotilla sailed right into both Hamas’ and likud’s propaganda harbors.

      Reply to Comment
    2. The Titanic was “unsinkable” until it hit the iceberg.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Joanna

      I suspect that an unarmed Palestinian revolt will not only be the end of Netanyahu but also the end of Hamas and any other Palestinian government that limits the rights of the people and is in any way violent or corrupt.

      Reply to Comment
    4. In a famous note of 1948 Einstein wrote: “When a real and final catastrophe should befall us in Palestine the first responsible for it would be the British and the second responsible for it the Terrorist organizations build up from our own ranks.”
      As you say: “The Prime Minister is winning every battle on his way to lose the entire war.” I sure hope the peaceful resistance will have a long and lasting effect on the minds of the world leaders of the moment, before it’s too late.

      Reply to Comment
    5. David

      I see you are pushing a book titled ” The invention of the Jewish people ” on your twitter. http://twitter.com/#!/eluitsz .
      Do tell us more! Any more nuanced takes on the current situation?
      Here is a more nuanced take by a Dutch Reporter for Radio Netherlands World Wide
      He abandoned the Dutch Boat for reasons I find none to surprising. Having worked with the far left at times, I know paranoia and control freakism is never far away…..

      Reply to Comment
    6. O.selznick

      @Noam Sheizaf
      what no one is really talking about is that the victory in Bil’in was won in the Israeli Court system and not by the unarmed resistance. ofcouse such litigation can be viewed as unarmed resistance but still, I think some credit is due to the Israeli legal system and the supreme court for handing down this decision.
      Such credit that sometimes I feel writers like your self find very hard to give.

      Reply to Comment
    7. @O.Selznick

      I don’t know what you mean by “writers like you,” but it doesn’t sound very respectful. I won’t use the term “readers like you”.

      to the point: as I wrote in the linked piece, Israeli Supreme Court is useless when it comes to the rights of Palestinians, and I have no doubt in my heart that if it wasn’t for the publicity the demonstrations gave the case, the ruling would have never occurred. Furthermore, as you might know, the army simply didn’t carry out the verdict for almost four years, and only by prolonging the struggle were the people of Bil’in able to force the change of the route of the barrier. this wasn’t a case of “democracy in action”, because there is no such thing in the West Bank.

      Reply to Comment
    8. David

      Selznick wrote: ” writers like your self ” which is hardly disrespectful.
      I can not help but notice that, Noam, you misquote ( ” writers like you ” ) although the text is right in front of you.
      Is this something You and some bloggers at 972 need to work on? Are we having a detail deficit in this complicated matter? Are we missing some nuances in the larger discourse here?
      I mean is this could be Mossad divers right here! changing screws and letters…..??

      Reply to Comment
    9. @David:
      What I referred to was the attempt to classify me within a “group of writers” with specific agenda – not to an insult (which wasn’t there). I ask readers of this blog to respond to me, not to others through me.
      Nevermind. maybe I shouldn’t have answered, because more often than not, the debate becomes personal rather than on topic – a fact which you just demonstrated.

      Reply to Comment
    10. David

      My problem is, not specific to this piece, the line between journalism and activism.
      972 blurs this line, by looking like a “newspaper”/news website, many work as journalists, and yet are also politically very active/activists.
      I think Glen Beck sucked, for obvious reasons. Many writers at 972 carry their personal struggle into their work. I find that many of you do not make this clear enough outside of 972. It’s kinda like making a Pro-Life activist in the USA head of Health Services. I’d find that problematic too.
      Regarding the “personal”, when someone actively and persistently tries to basically “dismantle” Israel as a Zionist State, I take it personal, as do many others, since you are working towards the abolition of my life. We are not talking about a 2% tax hike, but my Life in Israel. So I think, we must understand the personal.
      Ami Kaufman gets “personal” when he writes that all bets are off when you storm the fence in the Golan ( searched for his 972 piece but can not find it, sorry ).
      He is worried for his family.
      So am I.
      That is why it is personal.

      Reply to Comment
    11. @David:

      I have worked in the Israeli media for 12 years, and I’m still looking for the unbiased journalist you are aiming for. As for the rest of your comment, I simply don’t agree with the way you describe the people working on this project, our cares and motivations. I am happy for you that you live with your family here – we all do.

      Reply to Comment
    12. David

      I have huge issues ,Noam, with 972 pundits working for or often appearing on channels like CCTV, Al Jazzy and RT-TV. How can I respect a journalist as a source when your money comes from Peking or Moscow, or Dubai for that matter? All places that are not known for their truth. While Roee is interviewing J. Pollack his paymasters are literally clubbing a dozen villages into submission back in China, Ai Wei Wei, Tibet etc.
      Russian TV is a joke, for me. And Al Jazzy, well, hardly a nuanced take.
      I am not “aiming” for the perfect journalist. But I do look for a minimum of objectivity. Writing for hard line Palestinian outlets hardly enforces trust, as Dana ( Mr Pathos ) does,.

      Reply to Comment
    13. eitan hajbi

      the bilin case was carelessly rejected at the israeli supreme court 3 times in a raw, and they didn’t change their decision until the struggle began and became such well known symbol of a non violent struggle in the west-bank, israel, the middle east and around the world. the last and new court decision, though, admitted that the taking of the lands was an organised, violent theft, but gave the bilin people only half of their grounds back because the other half is already occupied by a brand new israeli settlment (that was built quickly without even having israeli building permition…)……

      Reply to Comment
    14. Eitan

      David, I think that the fact that you are confused about the distinction between Zionism and your ‘Life in Israel’ is yet another sign that things have gotten out of hand here. I’m just saying.

      Reply to Comment
    15. Catherine

      Coming from the United States, it is a serious issues in politics and news of where one gets their funding. But even worse is those that level that charge without proof. I find comments like “Al-Jazzy”not very genuine in addressing a serious issue. However, I think one’s ideas can speak for themselves. Debate the argument, not the person. Does this article truly fall outside the mission statement at the top of this page – “independent reporting and commentary”? Not really.

      Reply to Comment
    16. max

      I don’t know why Netanyahu is so passive, but the fact is that violence during his governments time is lower than during other governments.
      He must be doing something important right.

      Reply to Comment
    17. O.Selznick

      @ everyone

      I’m sorry if my comment offended on a personal level this is never my intention to offend anyone.
      I’m glad it did spark a debate about the line between activisim and journalism.
      as for your reply Noam: you wrote ” I have no doubt in my heart that if it wasn’t for the publicity the demonstrations gave the case, the ruling would have never occurred.”
      (1) a healthy journalist should always have doubt, atleast some, no?
      (2) there have been meny cases of demonstrations which have not changed supreme court decisions (look up Bagatz Horev – in the case about opening a road in Jerusalem close to an Orthodox neighbourhood). there have also been meny cases that the supreme court has not listened to palestinian demonstrations aswell.
      the supreme court (or any court in Israel) does not base its ruling on public opinion or public pressure, but on the rule of law.
      I know we can argue and agree on the rules (like the racist rules that are being passed down by this current government and meny others that still exist from previous ones).
      the fact the verdict has not been carried out for 4 years could be for various reasons ( probably army claming it needs time to replan the new fence) and has to do with the government lacking of enforcement of the verdict.
      this victory was won in the courts, as have other victories of palestinian rights (mostly workers rights) been won before. that does not mean that there have not been failures.
      unlike what Noam says I do believe this is a clear case of democracy in action in the sense that the rule of law prevails. I hope there will be meny more of these.

      Reply to Comment
    18. NormanF

      There is no need for change. The Palestinians have an ineffectual leadership that can’t make a compromise peace with Israel. Regardless of what people outside Israel think, the status quo is sustainable. Quite simply, no good alternative exists. Life is good for both the Jews and the Arabs. The first rule of politics is: don’t rock the boat. Netanyahu is doing a pretty good job abroad and at home and the Israeli center likes his peace policies. If an Arab leader came who would recognize Israel as a Jewish State, Israel’s government would have to heed the wishes of its people. As long as that is not in the cards, Israelis prefer stability and quiet. They know their country is the one country not shaken by the turmoil in the rest of the region. Israel’s future looks quite good!

      Reply to Comment
    19. Matt

      It is not over yet, Obama get his Jewish votes and support.

      No it is not over, you jumped one hurdle but the finish line is far over the horizon.

      Reply to Comment