It was an election which most of us knew the outcome. Yes many of us had the hope that a Benny Gantz will somehow usurp the status quo. That somehow another junta of three former generals plus Lapid arrangement would lead Israel to a better future. However it was but a daydream. Even though tied in mandates, the right wing block came out ahead. As of recent news, Bennett and Shaked’s New Right party seems to have become an exception seemingly failing to pass the electoral threshold.
Congratulations Prime Minister Netanyahu, you will likely make history as Israel’s longest serving prime minister.
Short term the arrangement is perfect for Israel. There is simply no better career diplomat politician for Israel than Benjamin Netanyahu. His accomplishments in foreign policy were nicely arrayed for him in the last month and from his good friends US president Donald Trump and Russian president Vladmir Putin playing an active role. He was on hand to see the US recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, while blacklist the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. He led Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro to the Kotel while the PA could do nothing but wail and “recall” their ambassador to Brasilia. A few days later he came home with the body of an Israeli MIA from the First Lebanon War Zachary Baumel organized by the Russians. In all these encounters Netanyahu was smooth as if he was the best friend in the room. Surely no other Israeli leader would have been able to pull off similar performances.
As US President Trump unveils his long awaited “deal of the century” and with the Russians at our doorstep in Syria, having a leader that is personal friends of both leaders is an extremely important strategic asset. As Israelis get used to relative calm and a peaceful life one needs to be ever mindful that the calm can be shattered quickly with a strategic error. It is not like Israel lacks enemies: Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah, Iran, and even Turkey’s Erdogan to name a few. To maintain the state of calm that Israelis can go about their day to day lives as if the country has become a Canada or Australia is no mere feat. Underneath the surface it is diplomacy that keeps the calm and stability and this should trump any talk of economic matters. A miscalculation will do more damage to Israel’s economy than any perceived damage that Netanyahu is accused of doing via his policies.
Included in Bibi’s careful diplomacy is Israel’s economic prosperity. Israelis have never been richer and are in some cases better off then their counterparts in North America. The ability of Israelis to economically succeed underscores the fact that its people now view themselves as one of the happiest people on the planet. Food is plentiful, most Israelis have big screen TVs and the most up-to-date gadgets. Many have become some of the world’s most active travellers. Now a “kef” life, hebrew for fun, is a routine part in many Israelis’ lifestyle.
Nevertheless, long term, the status quo can quickly turn into a dangerous situation. While Netanyahu is a great diplomat, his main alliance partners, the Ultra Orthodox Shas and UTJ parties, are far less diplomatic. Likely the Ultra Orthodox monopoly over political matters is slated to continue. Any American Jewish dream of plurality at the Western Wall has likely been delayed a few years. Israel will continue to be a hostile environment for the Reform Movement and more Liberal streams of Judaism. Almost certainly the way forward will see a widening gulf between Diaspora and Israeli Jews. To bridge the gap requires someone to speak to in the government and Netanyahu will be ever careful not to antagonize his best coalition friends. Already a major sore point within Israel and internationally, the Haredi, a minority in the Jewish world, will continue to hold all the political power.
Another problem is one of Israel’s rule of law and its legal institutions. If Netanyahu will now attempt to enact legislation that will provide him immunity from prosecution (known here as the “French” law), Israel risks a slippery slope turning it into an elitist power state similar to Erdogan’s Turkey. It is to be seen how Israel’s legal apparatus will handle the upcoming hearing and potential indictment of the prime minister. If Bibi is given a pass on the charges without due process it risks doing unrecoverable damage to Israeli rule of law.
There is also an economic argument. While the economy has been blooming under his premiership, government funded sectors such as Healthcare, Schools, and Public Transport are increasingly stretched to the limit. The minimum wage here is increasingly unlivable for many forcing many Israelis to work multiple jobs to pay the extremely high rental or mortgage prices. Israel has one of the world’s priciest real estate markets which has only become worse under Netanyahu. Without a solution the real estate market will increasingly hamper the ability of normal Israelis to live regular lives. These are all legitimate issues but as they are considered under the domain of the “left”, little practical answer is likely to be found for them in the next few years.
As such, while diplomatically it is favorable that Bibi is still Israel’s leader he cannot be Israel’s premier in his current management style for much longer. Let him oversee the Trump peace plan and produce a stabilizing relationship with the Russians. Let him create meaningful alliances with the Arab World and continue to keep Iran at bay. However, in the long term, we cannot risk the erosion of the institutions of the Israeli state over a constant fear of diplomacy. One day someone will have to address all the other problems. It isn’t a simple fear of war that can wreck Israeli prosperity. If it will not be Bibi someone else will have to fill the role.
Maybe a national union government with Gantz? Not likely to occur. Bibi has his majority.
As such I bless this government short term. Long term for everyone’s sake the management or atleast management style will need to change for the Israeli state to remain healthy.