American Presidents often ensure their legacy by promoting initiatives that aim to shape America’s future. Franklin Roosevelt offered Americans a New Deal during the great depression, Lyndon Baines Johnson called for the creation of a Great Society that would bring down the barriers of racism and Gorge W. Bush pledged to leave no child behind.
Israeli Prime Ministers are somewhat more modest when presenting and naming their initiatives. Arik Sharon proposed the disengagement plan which sounds far less ambitious than a Great Society. Ehud Barak pledged to simply leave no stone unturned on the quest for peace and during his first term as Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu wanted to allocate one computer to every child.
Not exactly Dickens’ Great Expectations.
When attempting to understand why Israeli leaders avoid bold initiatives, one should consider that once a leader defines his goals he provides history, and the electorate, with the means by which to judge him. If Obama-care survives the Obama presidency, than the current US President will be remembered as bold reformer. If Obama-care should fail than the President’s legacy will be reduced to being the first African American President.
By offering no long term vision, by setting no goals and by focusing on the present rather than on the future Prime Minister Netanyahu has found what so many Americans yearn for — job security. This is no trivial matter as the current market place is far less lucrative for retired world leaders than it once was. George W Bush doesn’t leave home much and when he does fly abroad he is greeted by hostile audiences such as the ones that attended Mandela’s funeral. Tony Blair had to settle for the meaningless title of the Quartet’s envoy to the Middle East not to mention retired French Presidents who usually face corruption charges.
Yet Netanyahu’s fear of joining Bruce Springsteen’s unemployment line has translated into a continuous state of indecision as is the case with upcoming Presidential elections in Israel.
In his term as President, Shimon Peres proved to be an asset for Netanyahu. Whenever the world pressured the Prime Minister to freeze construction in the settlements or resume negotiations with the Palestinians, the Noble Peace Prize laureate was sent to the front line to placate foreign leaders. Even at the age of 90, Peres was willing to sit in the trenches with Bibi and storm the lines upon hearing the whistle blow. Throughout his term, Peres insisted that Netanyahu is committed to the Two State Solution, that he is willing to make an historic compromise and that he simply needs a little more time.
However, Peres also proved that despite its limitations the Presidency can be an influential post. The President’s annual conference, which attracts innovators and leading figures from all over the world, is an example of this influence as is the role Peres played as Israel’s number one diplomat. In seven years, Peres not only rehabilitated the Presidency but also dramatically increased its relevance. His achievements have turned into him the most beloved public figure in Israel. A fete no one thought possible for the eternal loser of Israeli politics.
What Netanyahu requires is another Shimon Peres, a moderate public figure that will counterbalance the PM’s destructive policies. The good cop to play opposite his bad cop routine. Yet even more importantly, he requires a President who will not challenge him on domestic issues.
Netanyahu doesn’t want to see former Supreme Court judge Dalia Dorner as President as she may call attention to the government’s policies in the territories or even speak out against legislature limiting freedom of speech. He doesn’t want to see an academic such as Dan Shechtman fill the position as he may highlight the importance of education and the need to promote Israeli minorities. Netanyahu especially doesn’t want to see a rival politician such as Silvan Shalom become President as he may use the Presidency, and its popularity, to run against Netanyahu in the next general elections.
So what has the PM done to ensure his candidate wins? Nothing. What strategy has been outlined? None. Netanyahu doesn’t even have a candidate for the Presidency. Now, as the elections draw near, he finds himself in the familiar position of trying to pull rabbits out of the hat at the eleventh hour. One of his ideas was to extend the Peres Presidency by one year and avoid making a decision all together. Another idea was to change the manner in which the President is elected and have the public elect the President instead of the Knesset. Why reach a decision when others can reach it for him?
Call this Indecision 2014.
The fact there are currently twelve candidates for the Presidency, and that none of them were selected or endorsed by the PM, demonstrates a chronic lack of ability to outline goals and reach them or to set a course of action and peruse it. If Netanyahu can’t even manage a Presidential election, why are we supposed to believe he can manage leading this country in such turbulent times? By all accounts Israel is approaching an historic crossroads. What we need is a leader who can help us cross it safely.