27 Jun 2022

Bibi’s Not Out

I listened to a fascinating discussion about Israel’s volatile political situation. Hosted by the Washington Institute, this discussion featured David Makovsky and Dennis Ross. The former is with the Institute and Ross of course has been a negotiator/diplomat going back to the Clinton administration.

I don’t exactly think Ross is a bad guy, but he does appear to be naïve and locked-into humanistic models for diplomacy. In other words, it was clear from the conversation that the Bible plays no part in Washington policy.

Makovsky focused on the positive things from Naftali Bennett’s brief tenure. This, according to Makovsky, was that Bennett brought great diversity—historic—that the Knesset had not had before. That this includes the Islamist party Ra’am seems not to bother centrists.

Makovsky also said that Bennett brought “normalcy” back to the government, along with deepening ties with neighboring Arab states. Ross later also gave Bennett props for “building on” what Benjamin Netanyahu and Trump had forged with the Abraham Accords. As for the elections scheduled for October, Makovsky predicted it will continue to be close (“World War I trench warfare, with no one able to land a knockout punch”) and that perhaps only 100,000 voters (out of a nation of nine million) will decide who gets to be prime minister.

Ross contrasted Bennett’s style with that of Netanyahu’s (still Israel’s longest-serving PM), saying that the younger politician wanted to emphasize how differing parties could get along. Bennett feels that “We all agree on 70 percent” of the issues facing the country, so the remainder shouldn’t cause final divisions.

The Post’s editor Yaakov Katz doesn’t like Netanyahu, and he makes no secret of that:

“Netanyahu might be coming back. That is a fact of life. The government he will potentially form is one that should have Israelis concerned. It will be a government that will have one key purpose – getting him out of court and stopping the legal proceedings against him.

“To those who think that it is too late because the trial has already started, think again. Be sure that Netanyahu’s foremost goal will be this – finding a way out of his trial.”

And of course, there are those that support Netanyahu largely because he brings security in an age of terrorism. And Ross, though he worked for Clinton and Obama, he said something very interesting about the prospects that Netanyahu will return to the PM’s office. We write-off certain candidates at our own peril. For example, in the 1982 Lebanon War, Ariel Sharon (then defense minister), was castigated for murders that took place in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps. The ensuing investigation caused Sharon to resign. Yet 20 years later, he became prime minister.

Likewise, three years into Netanyahu’s first stint, he lost widely to Ehud Barak. He was gone from the political spotlight for 10 years…then returned and is now the longest-serving prime minister in Israel’s history.

Sadly, until we get to the point of knowing whether Bibi will return, Israel will be led by caretaker PM Yair Lapid. I’m not thrilled by that choice, but it’s part of the deal he struck with Bennett a year ago.

In summation, Makovsky and Ross seem to favor a “more modern” (my term) PM, one that will be willing to compromise with the Arabs.

But they’ve been compromising for decades. Still terrorism. The trick for Netanyahu will be to garner enough support to avoid yet more new elections. In October, Israel will hold its fifth such election in three years. In some ways, the Knesset is an impossible model, with scores of small parties wielding a lot of power because they can bring down a government; that’s just what happened to Bennett’s fragile coalition.

Netanyahu, now past 70, will need to convince enough younger voters that he’s the guy.

Let’s pray that’s the case.