Several weeks ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took to the stage of a modest hotel in Jerusalem in order to announce the temporary unification of the Likud and Israel Beiteinu parties who shall run together as one party in the upcoming general elections.
From behind a podium bearing the symbol of the state of Israel, Netanyahu asked Israelis for more power; more power for the Prime Minister, more power for the government, more power with which to exercise authority and more power with which to reach tough decisions.
All in all, the Prime Minister used the word power, or force (depending on the translation from Hebrew) more than ten times. Only two sorts of men use the word force so frequently. The first are Jedi Knight, the second are demagogues. As we have yet to see the creation of George Lucas’s Death Star, it is fair to assume that Netanyahu is the latter.
We live in the age of virtual reality, an age in which what happens in the real world, and that which occurs in the virtual one, are entwined. So it was not surprising to discover that campaign stickers bearing the picture of the PM and the words “Power to lower the cost of living” or “Power to lead” have become the latest hit on Facebook.
These stickers, as well as Netanyahu’s request for increased power, are somewhat ludicrous given the fact that his was the most stable government in more than a decade. The Netanyahu lead coalition had more than ample opportunity to tackle issues such as the high cost of living. In fact, the PM even promised to tackle this issue head on during a panic induced press conference at the height of the social protests that swept Israel a year ago.
But unfulfilled promises and the reluctance to use force are part of Mr. Netanyahu’s modus operandi. In 2009, while campaigning for Prime Minister, Netanyahu promised the citizens of Israel that he would meet Hama’s force by even greater force, such force that vanquish Israel’s enemies in the Gaza strip once and for all. Under his rule, he said, the lives of people in Shderot and Ofakim would no longer be an endless cycle of terror and fear.
This past week, the Prime Minister finally had his opportunity to put his doctrine of force to use. As Grad rockets pierced the skies above the Northern part of the Negev, and children run frantically from classroom to classroom looking for shelter, the Prime Minister found himself at a crossroads. Would he live up to his promises or would he yet again hide behind shallow threats and cheap theatrics?
The answer soon came.
Netanyahu decided to hold a briefing for foreign ambassadors where he paraded children from southern Israel asking the international delegates to look into their eyes and see their pain.
His supporters would say this was an important contribution to the effort of legitimating an Israeli military strike against the Gaza strip. I would argue that man is a creature of habits, and so is our PM. Rather than reach a decision, he found refuge behind his eloquent English which so many Israeli’s admire.
The question that arises is why did Mr. Netanyahu hold back? Why not blast the Gaza strip for the air, sea and land? Why? Because he can’t. Because he knows full well that a military strike reminiscent of Operation Cast Lead is impossible to execute with so little international support. Because he knows that even after such an operation, Hamas would continue to fire rockets at Israel. Because he knows that the most he could achieve would be a few months of tenuous cease fire.
There is of course another solution to the continuing violence in the Gaza strip. For alongside the demagogues there are those who believe that Hamas was and remains a pragmatic movement, one that would be willing to lay down its arms and negotiate a peace treaty with Israel. Therein lays the only true solution to the anguish of so many Israelis living under an Iron Dome of Netanyhu’s indecision.
Netanyahu has nothing to offer Israeli’s but rhetoric. They would be wise to remember this as they go to the polls in four months’ time.
May the force be with you.