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Netanyahu. Doesn't want to save the world Photo: AFP
Netanyahu. Doesn't want to save the world Photo: AFP
 
 

Bibi’s politics of survival

If politics is the art of survival, Netanyahu may prove to be Israel's next Ben-Gurion

Moshe Dann
Published: 08.30.09, 09:49 / Israel Opinion

As much as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is looking ahead, he's looking over his shoulder. Unlike President Obama, he doesn't want to save the world; his focus is on Israel. More important, unlike Obama, whose term of office is guaranteed for four years, Netanyahu can be thrown out by a Knesset vote of no-confidence.

 

Swept into power by the Right, Netanyahu turned to the left, filling key positions with Labor, and tried to entice his biggest rival, Kadima, to join his coalition. That has given him a stable backing and, if Kadima splits and joins the government, he will have accomplished a political coup.

 

By broadening his coalition to include opponents, he has created a new form of consensus politics in Israel, and destroyed his most potent political rivals. Marginalized, the extreme Left and Arab parties are irrelevant. That provides the government with not only political clout, but true national position as well. That may well have changed the face of Israeli politics.

 

Having succeeded scandal-ridden regimes of Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, former Likudniks who broke away and led Kadima to power, Netanyahu's mandate was not only to restore a sense of responsibility to government, but ensure that Likud would become Israel's leading party. His primary concern is not Obama's demands, or EU's anti-Israel policies, but creating a political base upon which he can rely and from which he can lead.

 

If Netanyahu can convince members of Kadima that it is their and the national interest to join his government, he will ensure his survival, eliminate Kadima as a serious rival, and establish himself as Israel's most important political leader.

 

Netanyahu's second strategic move is to change the international alignment against Israel; Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has been overwhelmingly successful in reaching out to Russia's Putin and the bureaucracy. That they speak the same language is an enormous advantage, which may influence Russia's antipathy to Israel. By drawing Russia into the picture, Israel has sent a message to the US: you are not the only player. That could be a brilliant move, and, although it doesn't compare with Russian interests in Iran, it might blunt Obama's crusade against Israel.

 

The success of Netanyahu's tightrope walk, however, like Obama's high-flying trapeze act, will depend on the strength of the economy. More tightly controlled, Israel's banking system is in better shape than America's. Israel's real estate and housing markets – the key to economic stability and expansion - have not collapsed, but are quite strong, and must be allowed to grow. No Israeli government can afford to ignore this reality.

 

Where, however, will Israelis be allowed to build? With all the talk about a Palestinian state, there is a growing divergence between what some believe is a political necessity and the need to provide housing for Israel's burgeoning population. Shifting priorities to the Negev and Galilee may be important politically, but irrelevant without adequate infrastructure.

 

Bibi’s mandate is to keep Israel strong

In the foreseeable future, therefore, settlements in Judea and Samaria must expand not only because they are strategic assets, but because of economic necessity. People need homes they can afford near places where they can work. That may be politically unacceptable for those who look forward to another Arab Palestinian state devoid of Jews, but no Israeli government will commit suicide to satisfy them.

 

Put simply, the process of settlement or "occupation" of Judea and Samaria, Jerusalem and Golan, is far too extensive to uproot. Jews who moved into these territories are no less entitled to live there than Arabs; their forcible removal would be a clear violation of civil and humanitarian law.

 

A Palestinian state of the kind demanded by Arab leaders, the EU and now Obama is unrealistic not only because an overwhelming majority of Israelis would not accept it, but because Palestinians themselves are, at best, ambivalent. They don't like Israel, but they don't trust the PA.

 

Forcing a solution, as President Clinton tried in 2000, will probably provoke the next violent outburst against Israel. The reason is because Palestinian leaders see any plan that does not meet their basic demands - return to the 1949 Armistice lines, eastern Jerusalem, return of "refugees," etc. - as defeat. That was confirmed at Fatah's recent convention. Palestinians define their identity in terms of the absence of Israel as a Jewish state. Palestinian nationalism must replace Israel, not co-exist.

 

Despite the Arab world's rhetoric, they don't care about the Palestinians; they never supported them, except as proxy warriors against Israel, because they view a Palestinian state as a threat to their regimes. Status quo, therefore, a Middle East without a second Arab Palestinian state, may not be as bad as some think.

 

Whether or not Obama learns the facts of life in the Middle East and facts of history, Netanyahu's mandate is to keep Israel strong and viable - not to establish a Palestinian state. Netanyahu may not have a vision, but he has a strategy; Obama has a vision, but no strategy.

 

If politics is the art of survival, then Bibi may prove to be Israel's next Ben-Gurion. His canonization, however, will take longer; Barack Hussein Obama’s has already begun.

 

The author, a former assistant professor of History (CUNY) is a writer and journalist living in Jerusalem

 

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