Much like the American rightwing pundit Rush Limbaugh, Bibi Netanyahu has taken to relying solely on rhetoric to gain support from the hawkish right, while discrediting himself with his claims. Limbaugh is a partisan shock jock whose over-the-top outlandish statements on his radio show isolate him from the American mainstream – but that is exactly his strategy. A partisan pundit can sit in a corner office and preach ridiculous prophecies. A world leader cannot.
Following last week’s U.N. vote granting non-member state observer status to Palestine, Netanyahu announced his government’s plans to advance building in an area between Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim known as E1. Despite it being an area which has yet to see one residential building block, and despite the fact that this is a noted diplomatic red line for both the Americans and the Europeans, Netanyahu preferred to unleash this mere slogan, in an effort to woo a right-wing voting audience who may be tempted to wander to further right candidates. What is clear about this statement is that it was meant to have merely a persuasive effect, as it is in practice simply a start to the process of zoning and planning of the land, which is expected to continue perpetually.
It’s no secret that the current government is broadcasting a new political talk show of theatrical and bombastic rhetoric. Throughout Binyamin Netanyahu’s term as Prime Minister, world leaders have time and again vehemently doubted his seriousness towards moving forward with the peace process. Along with his lack of action on the Palestinian front, Bibi has been particularly tone deaf to the damage of his own rhetoric, and has been putting all his efforts on convincing the moderate-far right voter base to vote for him. Take the 2010 announcement of a new expansion of settlements while US Vice President Biden was in Israel in an attempt to lay the groundwork for restarting the peace process (this construction has yet to start); or his recent unfulfilled request for a red line on Iran’s nuclear program. All are attempts to appease the potential voters at home, while disregarding the boomerang abroad.
With elections around the corner, one would think that substantial efforts would be made to reverse this trend by the very verbal Netanyahu.
Yet, in Israeli politics, and especially during election season, politicians are wary of looking outwards, and when push comes to shove, they put all their efforts in internal politics. Political parties’ PR teams and advisers will maintain that the international community is irrelevant during elections, as they do not have a vote. Why bother getting their candidates’ message across worldwide? Why put any effort in reaching international audiences and persuading international opinion? It’s almost as if foreign policy, in a nutshell, is one big waste of time.
Bibi’s latest may serve as good politics for him, but sooner, rather than later, this pastime of rhetorical tactics will get moldy, and start to smell up a storm. The EU will lose its patience playing this endless game of condemning and voicing concern. International response will move up a notch, and soon, European leaders will make sure Israel knows there is a price to be paid, singling Israel out even more in its legislation. As for the United States, it too will change its game plan. With Israeli ambassadors being summoned worldwide, our allies can no longer conceal their frustration.
Israel needs the international community now more than ever, and by now, this government should know there are consequences for having a ‘big mouth.’ By trying to simultaneously persuade voters to stay in the Likud, Bibi is walking on a diplomatic tightrope by not actually acting on these provoking announcements. If there is any possibility of unseating Netanyahu, or at least weakening him, it lies within the foreign policy.
Party candidates would be smart to include an international audience in their campaigns, and publicly voice their opposition to the current government policy and its damaging rhetoric. Candidates should present themselves as alternatives to the waning, isolating foreign policy and show they have real concern for strong ties with our allies abroad.
The historically left Labor party has yet to implement this – party leader Shelly Yachimovich has made it clear that she is not interested in enunciating any foreign policy nor publicly endorsing a peace plan and moving it forward. For Yachimovich, a daily public agenda that headlines with the diplomatic or security situation is a day lost for the leader who only wants to be heard on internal social and economic issues. What she refuses to understand is that a socially just and strong Israeli economy goes hand-in-hand with Israel’s membership in the elite club of democratic states – which in turn is conditional upon its diplomacy. By ignoring Israel’s diplomatic turmoil, Yachimovich is losing credibility both internationally and with her voter base.
Ehud Olmert, on the other hand, has made a clear effort to hammer his predecessor in as many international forums as possible, exposing an almost ‘peacenik’ outlook. Although Olmert has yet to say the final word about his participation in the elections, his rhetoric illustrates that he understands the delicate relationship Israel has with its allies.
Netanyahu has made it clear that he does not need international friends – or foes for that matter – to win this race. His signature rhetorical skills are directed to Israeli voters, yet perceived internationally as Israel’s foreign policy. It is as if Netanyahu, by uttering such words, believes that these myopic statements can replace real global doing. Foreign policy gravitas must be a prerequisite for any leader vying to oppose Netanyahu and his isolating Likud party.
Netanyahu is leading a state in one of the most volatile regions worldwide, and should not be employing the tactics of Mr. Limbaugh. He must take into account the weight his rhetoric has on the shoulders of not only Israeli citizens, but on the broad shoulders of our international allies.