Benjamin Netanyahu has presided over Israel in the era of global authoritarian retrenchment. Starting at the beginning of the end of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, and ending with the sodomy of Muammar Gaddafi with a combat knife, the world was previously in a period of democratizing pressure for nearly a decade in the 2000s. Across the Middle East, but even in the wider world, autocrats were on notice that if pariah regimes strayed too far from rational rule, if an American led Western coalition didn’t attempt to topple your regime, autocrats now too had to worry about their own people executing them in a coup.
The years following 2011 have seen the opposite. Bashar al-Assad is still firmly in control of a fractured Syria, Kim Jong Un has humiliated Donald J. Trump and spat in his face by showing the world the potency of North Korea’s nuclear missiles paired with their ICBM capabilities after being explicitly told “it will never happen.” Xi Jinping is fashioning himself to be the next Mao, and has presided over a deepening of totalitarianism and the establishment of a series of concentration camps in China housing millions, to which the world has scarcely said a word. Putin has led Russia back to perceived greatness through a pointless territorial expansion, invading Crimea and Ukraine, and destabilizing all of Eastern Europe and the Middle East with his support of Iran and their sectarian violence which aims to incite a religious war that would consume the world. Saudi Arabia’s prince murdered one of their citizens in a protected diplomatic compound on Turkish soil with complete impunity. In this era, no one dares to challenge the great autocrats of the world.
Netanyahu is not an autocrat. He may be guilty of some of the corruption charges, but he has been democratically elected time and time again by a small segment of the Israeli population who has yet to tire of his antiquated and neanderthalicly crude policies. For the stupendously long period he has been allowed to rule, his regime has caused Israel to stagnate, not economically, but politically, and to move towards a position vis-a-vis the Palestinians that is untenable for the long term and threatens Israel’s safety in the future.
Whatever Israel does in regards to the Palestinians and their ambitions for independent statehood, it is better done soon, and should be a permanent solution. Israel in the 1950s relied on its own recognizance and will to live to survive countless wars, skirmishes, and enemies bent on their destruction. They could not count on Western, American support as a given for many years after that, and if the critics of Israel’s Palestinian policy take power in America in the future, Israel’s secure position in the world could be driven back to this dangerous time. In this era, the Middle East is also not the same as it once was. Soviet scud missiles given to the Iraqis in the 1980s are not the same thing as the Chinese and Russian anti-air missiles being delivered now to Iran and Syria. Small arms and explosive attacks of the past are nothing compared to the possibility of a Pakistani nuclear device being detonated near the border with Israel. The consequences now for a conflict with the larger Arab and Muslim world become bleaker every year. Crucially, the chances of a conflict grow increasingly likely year after year, and the situation of antagonism with much of the Muslim world stagnates because the Palestinian question not only hasn’t been solved, it has been exacerbated.
Israel needs a solution. A two state solution, however difficult to achieve, is still probably the most likely way to accomplish this without doing something horrible, like a mass expulsion as a forced migration, or even some form of violence erupting. A one state solution, however attractive to nationalists and Biblical originalists, creating a larger state, which would inevitably include a much more expansive Palestinian population, lays the ground for a future conflict that may eventually culminate in genocide. The original notions of Zionism as the home of the Jewish people, and the millions starved, incinerated, and interred in mass graves in Europe should remind the Jewish people how much Judaism values life, and should predicate against building up a situation where the Jewish people may be left in a situation that could lead to a violation of its morals.
The issue is, Mahmoud Abbas and Binyamin Netanyahu have absolutely no interest in solving the crisis.
The two old and decrepit leaders reap political profit from the stalemate. Israelis vote with fear, exacerbated by Netanyahu’s gross mismanagement of the situation in Gaza which inevitably festers into a grotesque display of violence every couple of years without fail. He is completely inept to manage the Palestinian territories, much less make some kind of peace with them. This conflict, however, benefits him. During conflict, people crave strength and stability, and therefore, often choose the same leader, regardless of their ability to deal with the conflict or past failures, as one can see during in the 2004 reelection of Bush even after failing to capture Osama bin-Ladin and the deteriorating and prolonged situation in Iraq. There is evidence that wars, especially ones that can be short and won, are politically helpful (De Mesquita and Siverson, 842, 851).
This perfectly describes the periodic Gaza incursions that Netanyahu has overseen, while his regime has made virtually no political moves at all to stem the flow of violence, rocket attacks, or maintain stability in Gaza for more than a year or so at a time. Thus, perhaps he maintains the current state of instability with sporadic violence to improve his chances to stay in office.
Regardless, there has been absolutely no improvement in the security situation since he took power, showing gross negligence in presiding over a stagnation at the very least as Gaza stockpiles rockets, the West Bank ferments, and the situation at the northern borders continue to dangerously fester.
The lesson should be that the status quo, periodic incursions, and the inability to think creatively or try to effect a solution have led to death and failure. This April, Israelis have a choice to make, and in order to strengthen Israel, they ought to to pick a leader who has more creativity, brains, and courage than the career politicians who continue to drag the nation along without making a single concrete step to resolve the one existential conflict that Israel faces. Fear should not triumph, and Israel this time should choose a leader that both has a soul, as well as a leader that holds the nation in higher esteem than the leader holds them self.
Staff writer: Ari B.
Photo: Israel, 1968
Addt’l source: De Mesquita, B. B., & Siverson, R. M. (1995). War and the survival of political leaders: A comparative study of regime types and political accountability. American Political Science Review, 89(4), 841-855.