Time for Netanyahu to go

There can be no doubt that the Netanyahu led coalition government formed on the 29th December 2022, Israel’s thirty-seventh government, is and will be historically judged the most disastrous, incompetent, dysfunctional government in modern Israel’s 76 year history. There is no purpose in narrating here the many misjudgements and failures of which it is guilty, the deleterious impact of the toxic rhetoric and conduct beloved by its too many extremist members, the unprecedented division deliberately created within Israeli society, its multiple attempts to undermine democratic values, judicial independence, the rule of law and to turn Israel into an illiberal intolerant, theocratic  democracy contemptuous of human rights. Much has already been written addressing these issues, they are well known and will be the subject of many future articles, books and much future argument.

Following Hamas’s invasion of Israel on 7th October, the murder of 1,200, its committing other barbaric atrocities, abduction of over 250 hostages and Israel being targeted by approximately 3,000 rockets fired from Gaza and continuous daily rocket fire thereafter, forging some political unity by bringing willing opposition parties into government made sense. The then government’s hubris, incompetence and neglect together with the IDF and intelligence failures which enabled the 7th October pogrom could not immediately  be practically addressed by a general election nor an inquiry. Due to the ensuing war much was postponed to a later time. It was also clear that there was no prospect of Prime Minister, Bibi Netanyahu, accepting personal responsibility for the catastrophic failures of his government, resigning and departing the political stage. 

There is historical precedent for Netanyahu remaining Prime Minister after the 7th October . Britain’s long discredited Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, remained Prime Minister until May 1940 following the commencement of World War Two in early September 1939. It took until then for his appeasement of Hitler and post Munich 1938 declaration of having secured “ peace for our time” to fully catch up with him. But it was not only that which caused Chamberlain’s resignation. He was also under attack from all political sides for the disastrous first months of that war.

Netanyahu’s conduct in the days leading up to United Nations Security Council ( UNSC) Resolution 2728 of March 25th and in the immediate aftermath of its adoption starkly illustrates that no lessons have been learnt from his varied and repetitive political misjudgements and failures leading Israel’s current government and that he is not only no longer fit to remain Israel’s Prime Minister but that his continuing to do so poses a clear and present danger to Israel’s future security, stability and place in the world . In purporting to defend Israel against its Islamic fundamentalist terrorist enemies, by his conduct and that of the extreme messianic members of his government,  he is helping them and Iran to achieve two of their primary political objectives- Israel’s global political isolation and demonisation and to create a rift in Israeli/ US relations, the US being Israel’s closest and, by far, best and most important ally. 

The operative text of the UNSC Resolution of 25th March “ demands an immediate ceasefire for the month of Ramadan respected by all parties leading to a lasting sustainable ceasefire”. It also demands “ the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages” as well as “ humanitarian access to address their medical and other humanitarian needs” and requires “ the parties comply with their obligations under international law in relation to all persons they detain”. The Resolution also “ emphasis the urgent need to expand the flow of humanitarian assistance to and reinforce the protection of civilians in the entire Gaza Strip and reiterates its demand for the lifting of all barriers to the provision of humanitarian assistance at scale”.

The Resolution was adopted by 14 votes in the UNSC with the US abstaining. It did so primarily because the resolution failed to condemn Hamas for its attack on Israel and atrocities of 7th October, abducting hostages and for breaking the then existing ceasefire. The US  had previously vetoed three draft resolutions on the Israel/ Gaza war and abstained on two in which the Council adopted resolutions on aid for Gaza and called for extended pauses in fighting. China and Russia had also vetoed two draft US resolutions, one as recently as Friday 22nd March. 

Resolution 2728, as adopted by the UNSC, gave all of its demands equal primacy and priority and while not expressly linking the ceasefire demand to the release of and access to hostages implicitly did so and can be properly so interpreted. Assertions by Netanyahu and others that it separates both issues are both disingenuous and self defeating.The clear demand for the “ immediate and unconditional release of hostages” and “ humanitarian access” to them, taken together with a demand for a ceasefire until Ramadan ends on April 9, should have been embraced by Netanyahu and his government as should the rest of the resolution. While the Resolution aspired to “ a lasting sustainable ceasefire” it did not demand one after April 9, give a free pass to Hamas reinstating its barbaric rule throughout Gaza, nor present an obstacle to hostilities resuming after April 9 should Hamas not lay down its arms. Moreover, the wording can be used to internationally highlight  Hamas obduracy and responsibility for continuing conflict in its failure to unconditionally release all the hostages, as also demanded by the International Court of Justice.

Netanyahu’s immediate rejection of the Resolution and denouncement of Biden and his administration, which has provided unprecedented political, military and financial support at a time of crises, exposes an unforgivable lack of political intelligence and strategic thinking bordering on the hysterical. The same can be said of the response to the Resolution of Gilad  Erdan, Israel’s articulate and usually intelligent  ambassador to the UN. He was right in depicting the UNSC’s failure to condemn Hamas and the October 7 massacre as a disgrace but the reality is the Council is not a morality court and rarely in its compromised resolutions gets everything right. It is composed of fifteen members, five of whom for historical reasons are permanent and can exercise a veto and all of whom have varied self and competing interests across the global stage. Three of the five are locked into perpetual  rivalry to achieve global political supremacy,  project power and to garner support for the form of government each embraces. On one side there is the US, supported by the UK and France, imperfectly projecting the values of democracy and the protection of human rights, on the other China and Russia projecting the values of authoritarian autocracy and totalitarianism and contempt for human rights, save where they weaponise the concept of human rights to denigrate adversaries.

Netanyahus ill considered, ill tempered  response to the US abstaining on the resolution, his cancelling the Israeli delegations visit to the US to discuss the continued presence of Hamas in Rafah and the fate of Palestinian civilians there, Gideon Saar’s unrelated resignation from government , Benny Gantz critic of Netanyahus conduct, the consequent fall out and Netanyahu further endangering the hostages held in Gaza leads to only one common sense conclusion. The natural and useful life of this Netanyahu led government, including opposition members, has come to an end and the time has come for Netanyahu to go. It is time Gantz and Eizenkott returned to opposition,  Yoav Gallant and others in Likud accepted Netanyahu has lost the judgement and political intelligence required of Israel’s Prime Minister and that either he be forced to resign or an election rapidly held. The public interest need to end total governance dysfunction at this stage should override any reluctance to hold an election during a time of war.

Netanyahu at an early stage in the current conflict promised “ total victory”. The truth is that no matter how you spin it there will be no total victory. Too many have already died or been permanently maimed, too many lives have already been changed forever. Netanyahu by his conduct of recent days and since adoption of the UNSC resolution, including his depiction of it, has handed Hamas a small victory. As succinctly expressed by US House of Representative member, Democrat and Israel supporter Ritchie Torres, “ the only winner of a public falling-out between the United States and Israel is Hamas”. There is an urgent need to ensure the current rift does not become a permanent estrangement.

26th March 2024

About the Author
Alan Shatter is a former Irish Minister for Justice, Equality & Defence, a former chairperson of the Irish Parliaments Foreign Affairs Committee, a former member of the EU’s Council of Justice & Home Affairs Ministers & Council of Defence Ministers, a Fellow of the Israel Council on Foreign Relations, Chairperson of Magen David Adom Ireland, a retired solicitor advocate, author of academic legal works, novels and occasional and an occasional lecturer and broadcaster on legal issues and contemporary Irish domestic and international politics. The Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs is included amongst the publications for which he has written.
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