Nov 26,2019 – JORDAN TIMES – OSAMA AL SHARIF
One cannot but feel a sense of glee watching the dramatic fall from grace of Israel’s longest serving Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who was indicted for fraud, bribery and breach of trust last week. Few expect the most controversial premier in Israel’s history to survive this latest challenge. He has vowed to fight on and he may be able to buy a few months by securing temporary immunity from a divided Knesset, but odds are that he will be tried, found guilty and go to jail.
Netanyahu’s fall will have deep political repercussions for Israel. For over a decade he was able to reconstruct the political stage in his own image. A gifted orator and committed ideologue he was able to manufacture and then ride a populist right-wing wave that ensured his own survival—and for him that was always the main goal.
Never mind that he has chased out centrist and left leaning parties; aligning his Likud Party with far-right racist political opportunists. And never mind that he had demonised his critics and opponents, including Israel’s Arab citizens, thus creating a culture of fear, discrimination and doubt. And never mind that he had distanced Israel from most of its European allies and America’s Jewish organisations by abandoning the two-state solution. For “King Bibi” it was always about him and his nefarious project: To extend Israel’s authority over all of the West Bank and kill the Palestinian aspiration for self-determination.
Netanyahu’s opportunist tactics helped him rise to the top almost 30 years ago. He incited religious fanatics and far-right activists against Yitzhak Rabin for signing a peace accord with the Palestinians. Rabin was later assassinated by a Netanyahu follower. The rising star in Israeli politics never showed remorse.
Netanyahu is said to be the most educated and well informed of Israel’s prime ministers. He is able to communicate his message fluently in English as well as in Hebrew. He was never a believer in mutual co-existence, the land-for-peace formula and the two-state solution. To the outside world his message was there was no Palestinian partner to negotiate with. To his extremist followers at home the message was that any peace with the Palestinians would spell the end of the Zionist/Jewish project.
In recent years he was able to create a distraction from the plight of the Palestinians. Iran was now Israel’s main enemy; an enemy that it shared with the Arabs. As he took to the UN General Assembly podium last year Netanyahu did not mention once the Palestinians. For him they were invisible, underlining his racist and disparaging view of more than five million of them under Israel’s ruthless military occupation.
It is no wonder that during his decade-old rule he was able to wriggle out of Israel’s commitments under Oslo by accelerating the building of settlements to unprecedented levels, especially in Arab East Jerusalem. As the world stood by and did nothing, an emboldened Netanyahu dissected the West Bank, beefing up settlements and building new ones thus making it impossible for the two-state solution to survive. This was to be his enduring legacy.
As he sought an historic fifth-term as premier, Netanyahu faced new challenges. He had become a true king with absolute powers and he had created enemies. Two elections this year had failed to deliver him the prize. Israel had become a divided home; the product of Netanyahu’s own doing; small religious parties that side with the candidate who offers the most concessions, disgruntled former generals who differ little with Bibi’s colonial schemes but are fed up with his corruption and former allies who now believe that they deserve a shot at the coveted job.
The contrasts between a defiant Netanyahu and his closest foreign ally, embattled President Donald Trump, are many. Trump is facing an imminent impeachment trial for allegedly blackmailing Ukraine into investigating his political rival in the 2020 presidential campaign. Trump has described the Congressional hearings as “witch hunting” “a hoax” and “a coup”. He decried a corrupt political system that is bent on getting him. Similarly, Netanyahu complained of a conspiracy against him and called for “investigating the investigators”. He too described the indictment as “an attempted coup.”
Trump’s presidency was essential to Netanyahu’s plan to liquidate the Palestinian issue. The White House has been implementing a far-right Israeli agenda. Now the two men face existential challenges. Trump may well survive the impeachment charge at a Republican controlled Senate. The same cannot be said of Netanyahu. His downfall is almost certain and while his successor may not be better for the Palestinians, he may be able to change Israel’s political trajectory that Netanyahu has sponsored; one that will surely stigmatise Israel as an apartheid and racist state.
Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.