Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's longest-ruling prime minister, appears to be reluctant to leave his official residence, on Jerusalem's Balfour Street, as if it were a king's palace, after 12 years of consecutive terms. The institutional uses grant him a few weeks to move without stress to any of his properties - in the same well-off district of Rehavia or on the seafront of Cesarea -, after the constitution of a new broad-coalition government last Sunday. . But instead of staying in Balfour as a temporary guest of the new tenant, the ultra-nationalist Naftali Bennett, Netanyahu has continued to receive official visits as if he was still in office. His meeting with Nikki Haley, former United States Ambassador to the UN,it has raised blisters among the Israeli political class, where voices have already been heard for the state to stop assuming its maintenance costs. When he was dethroned at the polls at the end of his first stage as president (1996-1999), it took him more than six weeks to vacate the official residence.
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“It is premature to say goodbye to Netanyahu now.
His departure is not irreversible, and he will continue to be very active in the opposition, ”says analyst and historian Meir Margalit.
"The general impression is that it will come back soon and stronger," he predicts.
The fall of the prime minister was wanted by the opposition, which has challenged him in four elections since 2019, but has baffled the Israeli right.
"It was not the business, that is, the ideology: it was something personal," confirms Yehuda Shaul, co-founder of the NGO Breaking the Silence, owned by Army veterans, now at the head of an analysis institute. "Caesarism, his obsession to occupy power forever," he argues, "has led him to politically assassinate those who have challenged him from his own center-right field."
The first Jew from the right was former Minister Avigdor Lieberman, an ultra-conservative secular who decided to break with Netanyahu two years ago after the first elections with inconclusive results. Also former minister Gideon Saar unsuccessfully challenged him in an internal primaries of Likud, the party controlled with an iron fist by Netanyahu, shortly before forming his own party in the last elections. And now it is the turn of Bennett, a close ally in the Government for eight years.
All three had been his heirs, whom he mentored.
Internal chiefs of cabinet in the Likud or the Government, first;
trusted ministers, later.
"He betrayed them too many times, until they lost faith in his every word," Anshel Pfeffer, Netanyahu's biographer, said in a column in
shortly after his departure from power.
The pact of the dolphins of the king of the conservatives with centrist and left forces, in addition to the unprecedented support of an Israeli Arab formation (the main minority, 21% of the citizens), enlightened the coalition to eight bands of almost the entire opposition that dethroned him a week ago.
"The common hatred that these leaders of small parties of the right profess has been decisive in their overthrow," adds Shaul.
Benjamin Netanyahu with Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat at the White House in 1996.PAUL J. RICHARDS / AFP via Getty Images
"Netanyahu had detected in time the need to seek support from certain Arab sectors to maintain his leadership," stresses political analyst Daniel Kupervaser.
He even campaigned in communities of Palestinian origin, after having maintained a markedly anti-Arab policy for decades.
It legitimized the presence of these forces, previously excluded, in a government coalition, Kupervaser points out, with the adverse effect that it has been the opposition that has finally benefited from its tacticism.
Two years ago he broke the record for tenure in power of the founder of the Jewish state, David Ben Gurion, but it had already entered the history books. The 71-year-old Netanyahu (known as Bibi by his family nickname), was the youngest head of government and the first born in the country after independence. He has also been the first to be tried for corruption while in office.
The grandson of a rabbi and the son of a right-wing Zionist historian, Netanyahu's life event coincides with Israel's own history. The ascetic and collectivist nation into which he was born is today the regional hegemonic military power and global technological leader, with a society that has become more politically conservative. Two social upheavals that he has helped to promote in nearly four decades of political activity. He was at the helm of government for the first time after the assassination of Labor, Isaac Rabin, in 1995. It took him 10 years to regain power afterwards, but from 2009 until now the Israelis have not met another prime minister.
The economic transformation of the country is one of the main assets under its belt. "No one can take away the recognition for his legacy of growth," admits Margalit, part of the pacifist left and former Jerusalem councilor, "although it was due in large part to the sale of weapons and military technology." Wealth is not equitably distributed among the different layers of society, where large sectors of the Arab and ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities are below the poverty line.
You cannot say that Netanyahu is finished, "said Shaul from the Israeli Center for Public Affairs," and he remains the most gifted and skilled Israeli politician, and with the highest level of maneuvering on the international scene.
"The mission of his life is that there is no Palestinian state," says this activist defender of the two-state solution.
Despite the wear suffered by Netanyahu, the Likud was the most voted in the legislative elections last March, although it was unable to gain a majority in the Knesset (Parliament) to form a government coalition.
Outgoing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the Knesset (Parliament), in Jerusalem on June 13. Ariel Schalit / AP
Branded as an opportunist politician, whose only ideology has been to survive in power in the face of adversity, Netanyahu has nevertheless maintained very precise geopolitical ideas: “In the Middle East there is a simple truth: there is no place for the weak, who are massacred and erased from history. The strong, for good and for bad, survive. They are respected, and in the end they are the ones who make peace ”. Thus he defined the axis of his foreign doctrine in 2018, in the ceremony that renamed the Dimona nuclear reactor, cradle of the Israeli secret atomic arsenal, with the name of Simón Peres, the historical leader who illuminated the nuclear program of the Jewish State, and whom he had precisely defeated in the legislative elections of 1996.
As Pfeffer remembers, his biographer, Netanyahu already bet in 1993 in his book
A place among the nations
for a strong and developed Jewish state to evade international pressure to make concessions to the Palestinians. "The world must accept Israel's position and remove the Palestinian question from the agenda," this expert summarizes the president's vision. His ideas seem to have been prophetic, at least to normalize diplomatic relations with four Arab countries, without having to pay the toll of handing over territories. Promoted and supported by then-US President Donald Trump, in 2020, the agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, Gulf monarchies with which Israel already had underground relations, were followed by the recognition of Sudan and Morocco, countries with which he had established shadow military cooperation.
Although he ordered three war campaigns against the Gaza Strip - the most devastating and prolonged (about two months) was fought in 2014 and the last one ended just a month ago - Netanyahu has preferred low-key contests, such as the one facing Iran. and its satellite militias in Syria, where Israeli air strikes take place regularly.
He did not have to deal with a new Palestinian Intifada, but his tenures were marked by trails of violence. Like the wave of knife attacks between 2015 and 2016 in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Or the demonstrations on the border of the Gaza Strip, which claimed more than 200 Palestinian deaths between 2018 and 2019. Or the recent escalation of protests in the Old City of Jerusalem, with its epicenter at the Al Aqsa Mosque, the third holy site. of Islam. "Under their governments the Palestinians have been humiliated and repressed, who from time to time explode," explains historian Meir Margalit, who as aedile was in charge for years of relations with the residents of the eastern part of the Holy City. Arab majority.
, a native of Israel who has understood the social diversity of a caste country, Netanyahu can also pass for a determined American from Philadelphia or Boston, where he spent part of his childhood and trained at university. This double facet has accompanied him throughout his existence. He has rubbed shoulders with statesmen in international forums, but for a large part of Israelis he is first and foremost one of their own.
As a young commando officer in the Army, he was wounded in the rescue operation of a hijacked plane at the Tel Aviv airport in 1972. The death of his older brother, Yoni Netanyahu, in another commando operation at the Entebbe airport (Uganda ), against a Palestinian group that had captured a hundred Israeli passengers in 1976, left a deep impression on him. His political thinking was also marked by the atmosphere of tension in the Cold War that he breathed during his youth in the United States and that definitively heeled him towards the conservative side. A decade later, Netanyahu was a key figure in his country's embassies in Washington and before the United Nations. He stood out as a skilled strategist of public diplomacy and his image emerged before the world as a spokesperson for the Israeli delegation at the Madrid Peace Conference,30 years ago now.
Benjamin Netanyahu during his military service in 1976. AFP / AFP via Getty Images
Deputy from 1988, minister in successive portfolios, the former prime minister took control of the main right-wing party in 1993. After forming what was described as the most conservative government in the history of Israel in 2015, it completed key reforms, of constitutional rank, which have marked a historic turn. This is the case of the so-called law of the Jewish nation-state, a rule that is detrimental to the rights of minorities, such as ceasing to consider the Arabic language as co-official. "The State of Israel does not belong to all its citizens, but only to the Jewish people," Netanyahu came to say after its approval in 2018. The outbreak of sectarian and intercommunal violence between Jews and Arabs in cities with mixed populations activated a month ago the social alarms in Israel.
During his 15 years in power, he has had to deal with three Democratic presidents of the United States who have set his pace. Bill Clinton, in his first term, and Joe Biden, in his departure from power, as well as Barack Obama, with whom he repeatedly collided. He challenged him in 2015 with a speech delivered on the same Capitol in Washington against the nuclear deal with Iran that the White House was promoting. The break with the Democratic Party recorded then was reflected in recent months in the coldness of his relations with Biden.
The arrival to power of Republican Donald Trump in 2017 upended the Middle East paradigm in favor of Israel. To prop up his latest electoral campaigns, Netanyahu won the support without hesitation of Trump, who gifted him with the recognition of Jerusalem as the exclusive Israeli capital and the endorsement of sovereignty over the Golan Heights (Syrian plateau occupied by Israel since 1967).
"Netanyahu is part of an illiberal international alliance, and has put Israel at the service of this entity with Trump, the Brazilian Jair Bolsonaro and the Hungarian Viktor Orbán, among others, to legitimize the occupation and
of the Palestinians", highlights Yehuda Shaul . "The expansion of the settlements has multiplied under his mandates," he warns, "and in the end that is the legacy of problems for the future that he leaves us Israelis."
Under the successive governments of the Likud leader, the colonies have continued to expand in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, where more than 650,000 Israelis live. In his first term, Netanyahu inherited the implementation of the Oslo Accords in 1996 under the watchful eye of President Clinton. For example, he handed over control of most of the city of Hebron to the then Palestinian leader, Yasir Arafat. But since 2009 - and despite his formal declarations in favor of the two-state solution and the temporary freeze on the growth of settlements under the Obama presidency - he has limited himself to applying a mere management of the
of the conflict. Without real progress towards peace, but without executing the formal annexation of the territories. His goal was to let the process of negotiations with the Palestinians rot, which have been canceled since 2014.
Netanyahu remains the leader of the party with the largest representation in the Knesset, where the right wing holds almost two-thirds of the seats. As Anshel Pfeffer recalls in
, in addition to the uninterrupted economic growth until the pandemic, the prime minister piloted the fastest and most effective vaccination campaign against covid-19. His achievements have not spared him from being felled by the opposition bloc after running out of sufficient partners on the right. "He lied and intimidated everyone and broke all the promises he had made to them, which is why he has been forced to leave power," concludes Pfeffer. "Those who were his faithful lieutenants have become his worst enemies."
The former head of government fought for reelection in four consecutive elections in just two years not to end up behind bars like his immediate predecessor in office, Ehud Olmert. From the power he tried to face with more resources - even seeking legal immunity - the charges of bribery and fraud for which he is being tried in three cases by a court in Jerusalem.
The fondness for luxury of the president's family - made up of the prime minister; his wife, Sara, and his first-born, Yair - was the first lead followed by the anti-corruption police squad in the investigation of corruption cases. The Netanyahu received expensive gifts - jewelry, Cohiba cigars or rosé champagne - valued at one million shekels (250,000 euros) from, among others, Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, who was able to receive millions of dollars in tax benefits in return.
The other two cases in which he is indicted have to do with the governor's obsession with obtaining the favor of the media, whom he blames for all his political misfortunes, but which he brazenly woos.
Both the editor of the newspaper
, the one with the largest paid circulation in Israel, and the owners of the telecommunications group Bezeq, which controls television channels and news portals, offered economic perks in exchange for having favorable coverage for their clients. interests.
Israelis wave flags outside the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City on June 15, 2021, celebrating the anniversary of the 1967 Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem.EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP
“Bibi has dealt a fatal blow to democracy in Israel.
But above all it has destroyed tolerance ”, emphasizes the historian Margalit.
"The conduct of Netanyahu and his family created an image that Israel was heading towards a [messianic] kingdom with Bibi as king," recapitulates political analyst Daniel Kupervaser with a parable.
"The residence of the prime minister was transformed into a royal palace and the people owed them honors and thanked them for their willingness to rule Israel."
A large part of society identifies with that image, warns this analyst: "Their visceral vote is one of the great tragedies of Israel."
YOUR POLITICAL BIOGRAPHY
Benjamin Netanyahu has been Prime Minister of Israel for 15 years: from 1996 to 1999 and from 2009 to 2021. He is the prime minister elected the most times, leading five governments (1996, 2009, 2013, 2015, 2020) and the only one to be able to form government three times in a row (2009, 2013 and 2015).
1996. In May he becomes the youngest prime minister in the history of Israel, aged 46. He leads the center-right party Likud.
1999. Also in May he abandons power and leadership of his party after losing the elections to Labor Ehud Barak.
2002. On November 3, Ariel Sharon appointed him Minister of Foreign Affairs. In 2003 he joined the Treasury portfolio.
2005. In December, he wins the leadership of Likud and replaces Sharon.
2009. On March 31, he was elected prime minister again after the February elections, in which the Likud won 27 seats compared to 28 for the center Kadima party.
2012. November 14, during one of the so-called “targeted killings” on Gaza, the Israeli Army kills Ahmed Yabari, the head of Hamas's military wing, unleashing an escalation of violence. Eight days later, Palestinians and Israelis reach a ceasefire agreement thanks to Egyptian and American mediation.
2014. On July 18, during Operation Protective Edge, Israel launches an offensive on Gaza. It is the first invasion since Operation Cast Lead, at Christmas 2008. On August 26 and after 50 days of offensive, Israel and Hamas agree to an indefinite ceasefire.
2015. On March 17 Benjamin Netanyahu wins new elections by virtue of which he gets an absolute majority along with the conservatives and the far right. It constitutes what is considered the most conservative government in the history of Israel.
2018. On May 14, the US opens its Embassy in Jerusalem, living a bloody day that claimed the lives of more than fifty protesters. On March 30, the Palestinian demonstrations of the so-called Great March of Return had begun.
2020. On May 24, he sits on the bench for three cases of corruption. He is the first active head of government to be tried in the history of Israel.
2021. On June 13, Israel closes a 12-year cycle of consecutive terms of conservative Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister.
The ultranationalist Naftali Bennett obtains the inauguration with a minimum program and a new government made up of eight parties that cover the entire political spectrum, including one from the Arab minority.
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