Is Binyamin Netanyahu a distinguished diplomat, or perhaps just a wily politician? Either way, the man is making history. Not only is he running for a fifth term as prime minister, he is also surpassing the length of service of Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben Gurion.
Stormy winds are blowing in Israel. The Likud, led by Netanyahu, is on one side, and the generals’ party, headed by Lapid and Gantz, is on the other. Netanyahu is trying to portray his rivals as the left of the political map — and largely succeeding — even though there are some avowed right-wingers on the list.
Both Netanyahu and Gantz headed to the United States this week, to speak at the annual AIPAC convention. But while Gantz is futilely trying to position himself in a leadership pose, Netanyahu has already been there for many years. While Gantz will deliver a speech on the sidelines of the convention, Netanyahu will be meeting his friend Donald Trump in the Oval Office for the umpteenth time.
And it’s not only the actual meeting with Trump. Before Netanyahu, Sharon, Olmert and Rabin all met with presidents. Netanyahu’s meeting is much more potent specifically because of the years of drought during the days of former President Barak Obama. At that time, the left in Israel was running wild, and justifiably so: Netanyahu — and, as a result, the State of Israel — were isolated on the global scene. The animosity between Netanyahu and Obama was detrimental to the state, and even gave a tailwind to the Iranians.
Trump’s rise to power brought with it a renewed spirit and color to Netanyahu’s cheeks. Suddenly, Israel has become a destination for foreign countries seeking to lay down a stake, after America moved its embassy to Yerushalayim. All at once, diplomatic isolation was transformed into diplomatic courtship.
The left in Israel also understands that Netanyahu is very tight with America. His friendship with the president is a recipe for success. On Monday it was publicized that Trump recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. The opposition in Israel quickly decried the move as election bribery, but anyone who knows how to interpret the way the winds are blowing, and has been following the friendship between the two, realizes that Netanyahu has triumphed over the isolation and has turned Israel into a major player in the Middle East.
Netanyahu and Trump also draw inspiration from one another: They are both being investigated for alleged illegal contacts that they supposedly knew about. Last week, the State Attorney General decided that Netanyahu and his family were cleared in three of the cases, including Case 4000 regarding the submarine. This week, special counsel Robert Mueller determined that Trump and his family were cleared in the Russian election interference investigation. Here and there alike, the media was dumbstruck.
Netanyahu, his opponents say, has one undesirable trait: procrastination. What can be delayed to tomorrow, he delays to the next day. He doesn’t really have a platform or a plan to topple the Hamas regime, or to better it. His platform is procrastination, to let time “do its thing,” and meanwhile, either Hamas will die or we will go for another round, and again he will delay.
Meanwhile, it has been working pretty well. Arafat died, Abu Mazen is irrelevant, and he hopes very much that Ismail Hainyyeh and Khaled Mashaal will become irrelevant by the time his term ends.
Sharon, Olmert, Barak — and most likely Gantz — are all irrelevant also. Meanwhile, PM Netanyahu has managed to bury his rivals — metaphorically of course — and to forge ahead and lead. Even without a special agenda, at least he has an open relationship with and recognition from the United States. Recognition not only of the Golan Heights, but also of the man who is up for a test — perhaps the last one — in the Israeli public arena: Mr. Binyamin Netanyahu.
And in these frenzied times, that’s more than something.