Netanyahu’s Legacy

The end has come. In an announcement hardly surprising, but yet still had pundits and analysts doing their jobs, Prime Minister Netanyahu told the Israeli public that they would be having new elections. He is seeking a fourth term. The Netanyahu bashing has begun and the running theme is that the PM is nothing but a political animal pushing the Israeli electorate into an unnecessary election. Also, and this applies to his critics in America, the theme may very be his shyness to seize a legacy outside of holding power. I disagree with both arguments. Prime Minister Netanyahu is a competent leader both domestically and internationally who better understands the threats Israel faces than rivals and allies in the United States.

Critics may challenge the timing of another election, it is their prerogative, but they overlook a key component of parliamentary leadership, effectiveness, furthermore these same critics would attack Netanyahu’s quest for a majority in parliament of the kind that makes the coalition building of past Israeli governments so tedious. Now, yes, the election law and types of political parties are different nowadays. But this is a reflection of the subtle changes in Israeli society since 1992. Moreover, one cannot rule out the element of surprise. That was the result of Lapid’s success the last time at the ballot box or Kadema before them. Still, the conservative hope is in this election to have a majority, possibly represented only by Likud, though this is rather fanciful. Still, a component of parliamentary democracy is the prerogative of the prime minister to call for fresh elections if there is a reason to do so, either to shore up popularity amongst the population or to increase the electoral margin within parliament. However, the point is not what kind of conservative government will exist in 2015, rather it is the absence of real rivals from the moderate and liberal political spectrum in Israel as acceptable alternatives. Netanyahu is such a skilled political operative that THIS is the context of the upcoming election analysis! He dominates Israeli politics precisely because there are no credible rivals AND as leader he deliberately avoids a vainglorious place in history. As other scholars have noted and I agree with, this is what has earned him the confidence of his fellow Israeli citizens.

It is exactly this however, that his critics in America, particularly the Obama administration and liberal commentators don’t understand. They seek an Israeli leader who will risk political capital for a peace treaty with the Palestinians. Legacy matters to American politicians. It does too to Israeli politicians, but this Israeli prime minister is not going to risk Israeli national security for a picture in the history books. This is not about political survival or being a coward as Obama’s foreign policy team recently said of him. Netanyahu’s legacy is that he has protected Israel against both international and domestic threats. That is his job, not seeking a dubious place in the historic record. This does not mean that Netanyahu is not a man of peace. I believe that he is, but his predecessors’ attempts at peace and their failures have made him both somber and pragmatic. Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, and Ehud Olmert all tried. The result was more not less bloodshed and violence. Individually, each attempt had small successes, and generated hope amongst Israelis and Palestinians, but the ‘legacy’ is unfortunately a legacy of failure. Period. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s pragmatism is not to risk Israel’s security that may result in the creation of another terror state on Israel’s doorstep. This is what the citizens of Israel understand and his liberal American critics do not. Former Prime Minister Sharon’s Gaza gambit will not be repeated. If this labels Netanyahu a “chickensh*t” per that famous anonymous senior Obama administration official, then he is a wise “chickensh*t” who wishes not to fail spectacularly at something that has little success rate. The success initially of Oslo was both sides willingness to seek a lasting peace. That willingness is not currently present. A monumental change in the Palestinian political culture must happen. Only when the legitimacy of a Jewish state, regardless of drawn borders, is recognized will an opportunity be presented again. The lasting peace that American officials search for and wish to impose on Israeli political leadership must recognize this fact before they continue the folly of pushing future negotiations that will only fail.

Prime Minister Netanyahu is entering an election cycle where he can tout domestic accomplishments, namely a period of unprecedented economic growth and a firmness in confronting terror and handling war. Furthermore, his strength in standing up to ‘friends’ like the U.S. and facing down foes highlight personal skills and leadership traits sorely missing from his rivals. His lack of bold and arguably foolish ambitions is wise. This is not a drawback, instead for Israel in its current domestic and international situation, it is a strength. It is an indicator of competence both domestically and internationally from a man who better understands the threats Israel faces than rivals and the U.S.

About the Author
Dr. Aaron Walter teaches International Relations. He writes on American foreign policy towards Israel. In addition to topics directly related to U.S.-Israeli politics, he has written on the presidency and security studies as linked to U.S., Europe, and Israeli studies