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The secret to Netanyahu’s success

A few days ago, Haaretz’s West Bank correspondence Chaim Levinson used his Facebook page to ask about the reasons for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s success. Here is an excerpt from Levinson’s post:

What is in this man that Israelis cannot imagine life without him? […] In my opinion, [Netanyahu] does nothing. A coward pretending to be a leader […] he isn’t even trying to turn Israel into a better place. He doesn’t want to change a thing. He is the middle class of politics: trying to survive, day by day.

If we can divide leaders into activists and those who refrain from action, then Netanyahu – together with another Likud PM, Yitzhak Shamir – is a clearly a prototype of the latter. Levinson is right: Netanyahu’s term has largely been defined by what he isn’t doing: he is not trying to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he is not starting wars, and he is not initiating major reforms. Even on his landmark issue, Iran, Netanyahu either did not succeed or didn’t try to mobilize the security establishment to military action.

There are many reasons for Netanyahu’s ability to hold on to power, but the heart of the matter lies is his tendency to avoid taking major action. The fact that it makes people like Levinson doubt the prime minister is actually the secret of his success. Netanyahu is a leader of the status quo, and the majority of the Israeli public prefers the status quo to all available alternatives.

Israelis don’t think that the status quo is perfect – far from it – they just prefer it to the alternatives. Even if they state in the polls from time to time that they support the two state solution, they don’t want to pay the prices or take the risk involved in a withdrawal. Israelis also reject the idea of annexing the West Bank. Faced with concrete alternatives, they would rather keep things as they are.

Netanyahu is rightly regarded as a man who won’t do much – that’s enough for voters. His tendency to avoid action also helps him bridge gaps between coalition partners, a very important quality in the Israeli multi-party system.

Netanyhu is more vulnerable on topics in which large number of voters are not happy with the status quo: the relations between secular and religious Jews, along with several economic trends. Like many leaders in the West, he is having hard time responding to populist demands. As for the Palestinian issue, the problem is not Bibi but the public, which recognizes the current status quo is the best of all available alternatives. Those who focus on the personality of the prime minister tend to miss that.

Is the Obama administration cooking up ‘Oslo 3’?
Recognizing that Europe and the U.S. support the occupation

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    1. Aaron Gross

      I think Noam is exactly 100 percent correct here. And over the last decade or so, the Israeli perception of the status quo has evolved from something tragic but inescapable to something not-so-bad. That’s Netanyahu’s success and his failure.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Vadim

      “he is not trying to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”, “As for the Palestinian issue, the problem is not Bibi but the public”

      Our neighbors desire nothing but peace, but the Israeli public and our evil prime minister are holding it back. If only we had such great leaders as Ismail Haniya and Mahmud Abass. They care for nothing but the well-being of their subjects and eternal peace with Israel.


      The Israeli public will support an agreement when the other side will look like they mean it. We did so before and will gladly do so again.

      Reply to Comment
      • Aaron Gross

        Vadim, I don’t think that Noam has ever suggested that the Palestinians desire peaceful coexistence with Israel. That’s why his argument is powerful and worth hearing – because it avoids the claims you’re caricaturing. He’s one of the rare voices in the peace camp (or whatever it’s called nowadays) that actually acknowledges the very real security concerns of Israelis.

        I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but I think he’s acknowledged that ending the occupation would probably mean more bloodshed on both sides. He argues that it should be ended nevertheless because it’s so outrageously immoral. That’s a powerful argument because it basically accepts the mainstream view of the facts, challenging the mainstream consensus on moral rather than factual grounds.

        Reply to Comment
        • I basically agree to the way you described my position. I hope that ending the occupation will be peaceful but the security risks are real – just as in any de-colonization process. Naturally, there are also long-term risks involving the status quo, not just moral concerns.

          Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          I don’t think of it as a very powerful arguement. It basically insists that in order to satisfy Noam’s sense of morality Israelis should put their necks on the chopping block knowing full well that the axe is coming down. That argument is effective only for those that both share Noam’s morality and are suicidal.

          On the other hand, Noam’s articles are a pleasure to read compared to the lala land delusional nonsense that usually passes for left-wing commentary.

          Reply to Comment
          • Aaron Gross

            Do most Israelis really believe that creating a Palestinian state would mean the destruction of Israel? I don’t think most believe that.

            You do make a good point about the level of detail of the argument, though. I’d love to see a peace-processor argue, “Let’s assume that your perception of the Arabs’ intentions is correct: that the Arabs will continue the war to destroy the State of Israel once they have their own state, as they now say they will. Israelis should still agree to a Palestinian state because….” That’s an argument I’d like to hear. But very few peace-processors will lower themselves to consider addressing mainstream Israeli beliefs.

            Reply to Comment
      • Haifawi

        The Israeli public has never supported an agreement, if by agreement one means a compromise where the Israelis have had to accede to some demands.
        No one here is willing to give the concessions required for a 2 state outcome, and no one is willing to naturalize non-Jews as citizens.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          Nonsense. The majority of Israelis consistently support an agreement with significant compromises. The Palestinians always want more of course, but there is no reason for the kind of blatant lies you are pushing here.

          Reply to Comment
          • Haifawi

            The majority of Israelis are not willing to hand over Area C, give them economic use of (part of) the Dead Sea, let them operate the Jericho border crossing, or operate civilian flights into Qalandiya or Gaza airport.
            These are basic requirements of a state, but Israelis expect that Palestine will always function at the whim of the Israelis.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            The majority of Israelis are willing to support an agreement handing over most of Area C, with some arrangement at the Jericho crossing, an airport in Gaza (which had already been built and was operating), and economic use of the Dead Sea.

            Israelis expect that the Palestinian state will be friendly with Israel and expect an agreement that will ensure that it poses no future military threat. Given the history of Palestinian security forces supporting or carrying out attacks against Israeli civilians this is a legitimate concern.

            You argued that the majority of Israelis are against an agreement. This was a blatant lie.

            Reply to Comment
          • Aaron Gross

            We still don’t know about the biggest compromise at all: the Western Wall and the Temple Mount. Barak and ben-Ami offered them (or at least the Temple Mount itself, which is just a rock’s fall up from the Western Wall), but they also promised a referendum before ratification, and it’s questionable whether that referendum would have passed.

            The cliche is that “everybody already knows the parameters of the future agreement,” but that’s just not true. Even if the Palestinians were, per impossibile, to accept Israel’s existence, it’s not at all clear that either side would give up the Temple Mount.

            Reply to Comment
    3. Danny

      This man’s “success” can be attributed to two things:

      1. Complete lack of an alternative. Even when the opposition seems to get a break, such as a faltering economy or deteriorating relations with the U.S., the opposition’s candidate proves herself to be completely unfit to be a leader (for example, by refusing to even mention the faltering peace process during her election campaign).

      2. The second reason for his success has more to do with the Israeli people than with him. Netanyahu is a capable salesman; if he wasn’t a politician, he would be able to make a very good living selling weapons to African countries, or ice to Eskimos. The problem is that for Israelis, that’s enough for them to accept him as their PM. He knows how to “sell” Israel to the goyim, with his funny pictures at the U.N. or his great American accent when interviewed on Charlie Rose. Israelis like salesmen like that, including G. Yafit and that sack of sh*t called Rani Rahav. Israelis LOVE people like that.

      In any other western country, Netanyahu would be nothing more than a used car salesman. In Israel, he’s king.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Ben Zakkai

      Putting aside for a moment the Israeli-Palestinian conflict issues that generally take center stage on this blog, and focusing on Netanyahu’s leadership qualities: If Netanyahu took serious steps to provide Israeli citizens with efficient public transportation and affordable housing, he’d do a great deal of good and probably become a local hero as well. The fact that he doesn’t do so speaks to his lack of initiative and/or attachment to interest groups at the expense of the general public.

      Reply to Comment
    5. The status quo really isn’t the status quo, as the accidental now frozen tender of 20,000 housing units shows. Settlement expansion will alter Israel’s future. Bibi offers the fiction of eternal procrastination. Investment in the WB continues, now with a settler party part of the coalition. The State, through its prior investment in the WB, has effectively created a new internal political force, even if that force lives partly in the WB. And that is probably the clearest indicator that Greater Israel will come.

      I do not think it “suicidal” to argue that revenge arson should not be tolerated anywhere under direct Israeli control; nor do I think it “suicidal” to hold that settlers are not direct arms of the State and should not act as though they were. The security interests of Israel will never end the occupation total. But security can be transformed into common good through a confederation. Otherwise, one is left with the notion of racial exclusion in a cramped living space, which strikes me as la la land.

      Reply to Comment

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