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King Bibi and the ‘great victory’

Netanyahu now enjoys a majority uncommon even among dictators, and yet he's still captive in the hands of the settlers

A few days ago, His Royal Highness King Bibi the First celebrated what many in the Israeli press have termed a spectacular political victory, as the Likud-led coalition successfully defeated a bill that would have retroactively authorized the Givat Ulpana outpost.

Prime Minister Netanyahu was not only able to defeat the bill by a large majority — 69 Knesset members voted against the bill and only 22 voted in favor — but he also quashed the opposition from within his party and his coalition.

High-ranking Likud ministers, such as Minister of Education Gidon Saar and Deputy PM Moshe Bogie Ya’alon, who had stated that they would support the bill, eventually voted against it. Even rouge parties such as Avigdor Liberman’s Israel Beytenu decided to stand shoulder to shoulder with the PM and vote against the proposed law.

Political commentators who analyzed the monarch’s victory claimed that his ability to shoot down the bill was a direct result of Kadima’s decision to join his coalition last month. By forming a 96-member coalition, Netanyahu has dramatically decreased the power other coalition parties have over him. Suddenly, Liberman’s threats of quitting the coalition do not necessarily translate into a political Armageddon. Moreover, the prime minister is now able to “break left,” as he is no longer at the mercy of the Israeli settlers and their mighty political lobby.

Like Elizabeth the Second, King Bibi is also celebrating a jubilee. His government has recently entered its fourth year, making it is the most stable Israeli government since 1996. Also, similarly to his British counterpart, Netanyahu has enjoyed a recent surge in popularity, indicating that this Israeli monarch is here to stay.

But as I looked at news coverage of the Knesset’s vote, I couldn’t help but wonder — is this what a glorious victory really looks like?

Is this what a glorious victory really looks like? Benjamin Netanyahu (Marc Israel Sellem/pool/Flash90)
Is this what a glorious victory really looks like? Benjamin Netanyahu (Marc Israel Sellem/pool/Flash90)

After all, for the past two weeks the Israeli government and political establishment, along with the PM’s bureau, have all been paralyzed by 30 families. The fate of some six houses located in a remote and illegal outpost has come to not only dominate the public discourse and the news; it has also trumped all other issues and challenges facing Israel.

Forget the ailing economy, the planned 2013 “slimmed-down” budget, Iran, Syria and Straits of Hurmuz — what about Mr. Friedlander’s mezuzah on the second floor of the first house in Givat Ulpana?

After the crucial vote, Netanyahu rushed to the Knesset podium, promising to construct 300 new housing units in the Bet El settlement, and adding that “rather than cripple Beit El, we’re extending it and making it stronger.”

These promises, part of Netanyahu’s attempt to appease the settlers, seem like the actions of a boy who fears that he has awoken a dormant bear; not the actions of a powerful prime minister. As is the case with other monarchs in Europe, Netanyahu seems to be bowing before the commoners and not the other way around.

Netanyahu’s housing plan means that for every house evacuated from the Givat Uplana outpost, 50 new units will be built. From a cost-benefit perspective, the housing deal Netanyahu offered to the settlers is quite a lucrative one. In addition, building 300 units in the West Bank is not breaking left. It isn’t even turning left. It’s staying the course.

In a recent article in the New York Times, Thomas Friedman wrote that Netanyahu now enjoys a majority that is uncommon even among dictators who rig elections. Yet despite this, Netanyahu is still captive in the hands of the settlers, who dominate not only his agenda but his Likud party as well.

A spectacular political victory for King Bibi? Think again.

About the Author
Ilan Manor is finishing his mass media studies at Tel Aviv University. He has previously contributed to the Jerusalem Post, +972 Magazine, the Jewish Daily Forward and On Second Thought magazine. His Hebrew-language blog has been featured several times in the Israeli press.