Ehud Barak: We Must Save Israel From Its Government

For all of Israel’s great achievements in its seven decades of statehood, our country now finds its very future, identity and security severely threatened by the whims and illusions of the ultranationalist government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

.. this government has been irrational, bordering on messianic

.. The government realizes that carrying out its one-state plan must entail steps and practices that necessarily clash with Israeli and international law — which is why it has effectively declared war on

  • the Supreme Court of Israel,
  • the free press and civil society, as well as
  • the Israel Defense Forces’ ethical code.

This disrespect for the rule of law permeates other aspects of the government, too. It helps to shield the prime minister, his family and his aides from corruption investigations. Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud Party recently introduced legislation that would explicitly forbid the police from recommending indictments at the end of high-profile investigations.

.. The Middle East is certainly a tough neighborhood. The threats to Israel are real and none can be ignored. Our country, however, has built an “iron wall” of military and economic power that has made us into the strongest player in the region.
.. there is a broad consensus among Israelis that rests on three pillars.
  1. First and foremost, security comes before everything; every Israeli understands this.
  2. Second, the unity, solidarity and integrity of the people take priority over the unity of the land — namely, the wish to possess the entirety of our historic homeland.
  3. Third, the principles of the 1948 Declaration of Independence, which lay out a vision for a democratic Israel based on freedom, justice and peace, are the foundation of our country’s de facto constitution.
.. The entire debate, then, is actually only over the fate of the isolated settlements, fewer than 100 small communities deep in the West Bank, containing around 100,000 settlers. Even if it is not possible to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at this stage — and it probably is not — it is obvious that continued construction in those isolated settlements directly damages Israel’s vital interests.
.. Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition claims to support the three pillars of Israeli consensus but the truth is it is determinedly undermining all three.
.. He prefers a Greater Israel with an Arab majority, violence and division over a united, self-confident Israel with a solid Jewish majority
.. He sanctifies the Land of Israel before the People of Israel. And he systematically erodes Israel’s democracy and liberal norms of governance.
.. In the service of this agenda, Mr. Netanyahu elevated fake news, alternative facts and whataboutism into art forms in Hebrew, long before those terms gained any traction in English.

What Does Netanyahu Really Want?

That’s the day he secures his legacy just by waking up, becoming the longest serving prime minister in Israel’s history, outlasting the iconic David Ben-Gurion.

.. Whatever your feelings about him, no one can dispute his genius at political survival.

.. The ability to persist, to keep going even when the world hates you, when the ground is crumbling beneath your feet, this is what he most values

.. After two decades in the public eye, what else can we say Bibi wants?

.. taking us on a slog through what he identifies as nine decisive moments in Netanyahu’s career and then rehashing, largely using newspaper clips, the Machiavellian minutiae.

.. On one side is the imagined inner voice of Benzion Netanyahu, Bibi’s father

.. A severe, aggrieved man, a scholar of the Spanish Inquisition, Benzion was to the right of the right — no compromises, no room for two states, etc. — and would frequently say things like “The tendency toward conflict is in the essence of the Arab.”

.. the evidence of Netanyahu’s political dexterity — winning an election in 1996 by hewing to the center, winning a different one in 2015 by lurching to the right. He often seems guided only by a very attuned political antenna that has him joining forces with the religious parties and settler zealots one day and seeking a coalition with the Labor party the next.

.. What does it mean, for example, that on the eve of his last election, in March 2015, Bibi answered definitively that he would not allow a Palestinian state to rise during his tenure? Is that a revelation of his true ideological nature? Or was he, in that moment, merely trying to shore up his right flank, which he did? And what do we make of his flip-flop a few months later, on a trip to Washington in November, when he stated that he remained “committed to a vision of peace of two states for two people”?

.. What Lochery fails to explore are the consequences of Bibi’s “pragmatism” in a place like Israel. Because, in practice, pragmatism for Netanyahu means twisting every which way to avoid confronting the problems of the occupation.

.. The tumult of the Middle East today, between ISIS and Syria and the sad harvest of the Arab Spring (not to mention his favorite bugbear, a rising Iran), allows Bibi to free himself or Israel of any need to take action vis-à-vis the Palestinians.

.. Netanyahu described a “real Middle East” filled with “large swathes of fundamentalism and dictatorial regimes” and engaged in a civilizational battle “much bigger than the battle with Zionism.”

.. The implication, in 1998 and repeated these days like a mantra, is that the only thing Israel can do is hunker down. But this is also an ideology of sorts

.. In the 1920s, Vladimir Jabotinsky, the founder of Revisionist Zionism and grandfather of today’s right wing (and Benzion Netanyahu’s mentor), dubbed his strategy “the iron wall.” In order for Jews to gain their own state they needed to harshly defend their own interests. For Jabotinsky this meant waging relentless war against the local Arab population until they understood that the Jews would never leave.

.. But still the ethos of the iron wall remains. Today, it manifests itself as an insistence that Israel cannot ever make concessions, that it must hold the line at all cost, its existence as fragile as it was in 1948. Netanyahu is the embodiment of that iron wall — unloved but strangely comforting to his people, a man who is a pure projection of the simple desire to continue existing, but who has no ambition to reach for more.