If one person should have been proud of the Israeli elections, that person is US President Donald Trump. In perhaps no previous election in known memory has a foreign head of state been so close to center stage. This was an election about Benjamin Netanyahu more than everyone else. A referendum on one man and in particular his foreign relationships. Even though the relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin was also highlighted, one relationship stood tall: That with the US president.
As of this writing, the early results point to another set of coalition deadlock in Israeli politics with Liberman as a potential king maker. One of the reasons for this is because the campaign focused on the cult of personality of Bibi.
In previous blog postings I mentioned the need of analyzing whether Bibi was an effective Platonian “philosopher-king” to steer the Israeli ship of state. I went as far as to give him limited backing when he won the previous elections in April but then ceremonially could not form a coalition. However, in the few weeks following the last elections, when it became clear that fellow parliamentarians would barter his immunity from persecution in exchange for influence, it became more and more clear that we are dealing with a man that is beyond all interested in power. It does not matter what could happen to Israeli society the next day. Bibi and his influence, especially in world affairs, is beyond all impenetrable. Bibi is the only one who can steer Israel. Bibi is Israel.
To be fair the results we are seeing tonight are not all Bibi’s doing. He himself admitted weeks ago that he could very well lose this election. There is an element of “human” Bibi coming out, whether it be how he rushes to panic, to dramatic declarations on the Jordan Valley and Hebron, to how he called an emergency meeting of the Central Elections Committee to protest how the elections were in fact “stolen.” For a man constantly seen as beyond reach, there is a sigh of relief that the man that had dominated Israeli politics for a decade is still in fact a human being.
Let’s put personality aside now, people are suffering from real issues.
The Israel we are living in today has many real issues affecting its people, issues largely ignored in the election. The medical system is overstretched. If I need a medical appointment in Clalit I sometimes have to wait weeks with much pushing. It is certainly worse for more pressing matters. We have an education system where often there are over 40 students to a teacher and a general shortage of teachers as they are underpaid and under supported. We have a country that only knows to raise real estate prices, to the point that anyone who hasn’t acquired a home, may increasingly never do so pending they win the lottery. The cellphone reception is increasingly less clear as lsrael has long not upgraded its cell towers due to lack of funding.
Will anyone address these issues? Foreign issues such as the ever growing gulf between Israelis and Diaspora Jewry and the role of the Haredim in controlling religious rites were largely pushed aside but will have a paramount effect on Israel’s Jewish character. There was barely a mention on the campaign trail but will now become a central theme in coalition negotiations due to the position of Israel Beytenu post election. (The current vote was triggered over the latter issue.)
Even on security there are many unresolved issues. There is a rocket problem with Gaza, with no real answer. While Bibi likes to theatrically threaten Hamas we all know he will never act other than to strike empty dunes and buildings. Hezbollah is arming for war in the North and while the fake medical evacuation was a great stunt, we may not be so fortunate next time. Where is the long term strategy? Do we allow ourselves to act like a paper tiger? When is the final tipping point that will lead to real action?
Bibis strength is being able to network with the Russians and the American leadership, to maneuver the gray in an increasingly intertwined Middle East. With this sophistication he has brought peace to Israel’s shores while striking at Iranian targets in Syria and now Iraq. However this is a dangerous bubble in an ever changing geopolitical chess game. A war will break out involving Israel, it is a matter of time. When it arrives to our shores we will soon forget the decade of quiet and replace it with a survivalist mentality. Will Trump or Putin come to our aid when the quiet ends?
It is perhaps no coincidence that the Saudi Arabian Aramco plants were attacked by Iranian cruise missiles days before the elections. Will Trump come to the aid of Saudi Arabia? Instead of watching a repeat of April we should be focusing on what is happening in the Persian Gulf for Israel’s future security may very well depend on Trump’s next moves.
Whomever wins and it seems as of writing that the political deadlock will continue, will have to face the music. It is not a simple cult of personality.