These are three promises the prime minister made again less than a week ago, while wiping the cold sweat from his forehead following the removal of the metal detectors from the Temple Mount. Rightwing politicians and Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett launched a firm attack, and Netanyahu didn’t exactly demonstrate political composure. The spins came out of his office at the pace of worshippers visiting the Al-Aqsa Mosque for the Friday prayer.
These initiatives are disputable—I believe they are loaded with empty foolishness—but there’s one thing we can find a consensus about in Israeli reality: There isn’t a reasonable chance that Netanyahu will keep his promises.
Umm al-Fahm can be handed over to the Palestinian state in a permanent agreement, which is nowhere in sight; transferring the land won’t revoke its residents’ citizenship in any event, and there is nothing in the Israeli government system which makes it possible to revoke the citizenship of tens of thousands of people. A death penalty exists in military laws and is a dead letter, and security officials consistently recommend leaving it that way. And as for Al-Jazeera, Israel is anyway using that network to convey its messages in the Arab world.
But this isn’t really a relevant discussion. Netanyahu is making promises, because that’s what he’s been doing for many years. There’s always a series of balls in the air, alternately thrown by the great juggler of the Israeli discourse. Sometimes it’s the Nationality Bill, sometimes open skies in the Israeli media, and now the death penalty and giving away Umm al-Fahm.
Netanyahu throws the balls and catches them, furthers the initiatives and curbs them, builds the dam and then allows an intentional spillover. These are fantasies of a large political camp—the largest one—which Netanyahu is nurturing and painting in saccharine colors. People fall in love with the initiatives the prime minister seems dead serious about, and then it turns out they were just another ball in the air, another distraction. Caving at the Temple Mount? Look, a bird!
Our political discourse has become increasingly contaminated with false statements. Usually, it’s the opposition which makes empty promises. In the opposition’s case, after all, talk is cheap. The power isn’t in its hands in any event. But in the current government, the tables have turned, and the dreams are being sold by the government and the coalition. One can feel the frustration among writers and supporters in the Israeli right, who simply fail to understand why all the promises aren’t being fulfilled. The right is in power, after all, yet reality isn’t changing in a way that matches the generously scattered fantasies.
We know the answer. Many politicians don’t mean it. They come up with an initiative but will easily admit, in a pleasant and private talk in the Knesset cafeteria, that it’s hopeless. As far as they’re concerned, it’s “part of the game.” The right’s base shouts loudly on social media, so it can be satisfied with some proposal that evokes anger and criticism in the media, and the mission has been accomplished. The legend about the politicians who calls and asks the newspaper to write against him is no legend, it’s reality.
We’ve gotten so used to this state of affairs, that there are people who believe it’s healthy politics. In some sense, US President Donald Trump’s world is moving towards this reality. Almost all his big election promises have been revealed as a totally empty tool, filled with spins. We have a reason to be proud: Our political discourse preceded the American reality by nearly an entire generation. Now, they’re degenerating too.
Nadav Eyal is Channel 10's chief international correspondent.