Benjamin Netanyahu Won’t Be Israel’s Prime Minister Forever

Oct. 10 2017

The Israeli prime minister is currently the subject of multiple corruption investigations, some of which seem to be growing closer to threatening his tenure in office. But Netanyahu, the longest serving head of the government since David Ben-Gurion, has weathered many political crises, and may survive this one as well. Before speculating about what will follow when, eventually, Netanyahu does step down, Neil Rogachevsky takes stock of his career:

Compared with the tenures of almost all of his predecessors, Netanyahu’s premiership has seemed remarkably uneventful. The hallmarks of Israel under Netanyahu have been strength and stability. . . . There have been plenty of bumps, . . . yet some historical perspective is in order. The biggest military engagement of Netanyahu’s time—the 2014 Gaza war—was small compared with previous wars and battles, including with Gaza. . . . Meanwhile, over the course of Netanyahu’s rule, the country has enjoyed either very strong or better than average economic growth. When other Western countries sputtered in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, Israel grew at 4 to 5 percent a year. A left-wing economic populist movement in the summer of 2011, motivated by high housing and food costs, has been if not diffused then at least limited. . . .

The principles of what one might call Netanyahuism are as follows: a strong, though cautious, policy vis-à-vis the Palestinians and foreign policy more generally; economic neo-liberalism where possible and practicable; and the middle ground and compromises on social questions, particularly of religion and state. They are a politics of moderation that fit well with what Ze’ev Jabotinsky, [the early Zionist thinker whose mantle Netanyahu claims to have assumed], called hadar (literally “magisterialism” or “honor”), a kind of enlightened or princely statesmanship. . . .

[A]n honest assessment of Netanyahu’s record would have to admit that his caution bespeaks a kind of common sense and moderation sorely lacking in many countries these days and often absent from Israeli history. . . . [He] has managed to temper fanaticism of all kinds, secular, religious, and military. This can be seen by the fact that his main rivals are not from the center or left but from the far right: populists in the Likud party and the splinter parties who seek to capture Likud’s [electoral] bases. . . .

Will Netanyahuism survive beyond the man’s tenure in office? This question is murky as he has few if any real disciples. Reagan had Reaganites; Thatcher had Thatcherites; even Tony Blair had Blairites. It’s hard to conceive that Netanyahu will have such followers. This, however, is not necessarily a bad thing, as the question of the merits of disciples is as vexed in politics as in the world of ideas. Do not disciples corrupt as much as carry the flame? Disciples can sustain the example of a character worthy of emulation, yet they can also lack the ability to adapt to new circumstances. As in so many other things, the example of Abraham Lincoln is perhaps the happiest one. He did not produce political disciples who carried his platform forward after his death, but his example inspired the wisest stewards of American government for decades.

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More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel & Zionism, Israeli politics, Ze'ev Jabotinsky

When It Comes to Syria, Vladimir Putin’s Word Can’t Be Trusted

July 13 2018

In the upcoming summit between the Russian and American presidents in Helsinki, the future of Syria is likely to rank high on the agenda. Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, has already made clear that Moscow won’t demand a complete Iranian withdrawal from the country. Donald Trump, by contrast, has expressed his desire for a complete U.S. withdrawal. Examining Moscow’s track record when it comes to maintaining its past commitments regarding Syria, Eli Lake urges caution:

Secretary of State John Kerry spent his last year in office following Lavrov all over the world in an attempt to create a U.S.-Russian framework for resolving the Syrian civil war. He failed. . . . President Trump [now] wants to get to know Putin better—and gauge his willingness to help isolate Iran. This is a pointless and dangerous gambit. First, by announcing his intention to pull U.S. forces out of the country “very soon,” Trump has already given away much of his leverage within Syria.

Ideally, Trump would want to establish a phased plan with Putin, where the U.S. would make some withdrawals following Iranian withdrawals from Syria. But Trump has already made it clear that prior [stated] U.S. objectives for Syria, such as the removal of the dictator Bashar al-Assad, are no longer U.S. objectives. The U.S. has also declined to make commitments to give money for Syrian reconstruction.

Without any leverage, Trump will have to rely even more on Putin’s word, which is worthless. Putin to this day denies any Russian government role in interfering in the 2016 U.S. election. Just last month, Putin went on Austrian television and lied about his government’s role in shooting down a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine. Why would anyone trust Putin to keep his word to help remove Iran and its proxies from Syria?

And this gets to the most dangerous possible outcome of the upcoming summit. The one thing that Kerry never did was to attempt to trade concessions on Syria for concessions on Crimea, the Ukrainian territory that Russia invaded and annexed in 2014. There was a good reason for this: even if one argues that the future of Ukraine is not a high priority for the U.S., it’s a disastrous precedent to allow one nation to change the boundaries of another through force, and particularly of one that signed an agreement with the U.S., UK, and Russia to preserve its territorial integrity in exchange for relinquishing its cold-war-era nuclear weapons.

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More about: Crimea, Donald Trump, Politics & Current Affairs, Russia, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy, Vladimir Putin