January 11, 2017

4 min read

Ira Sharkansky

There are a couple of indications that Israel is approaching a junction.

One is the combination of nastiness between the Prime Minister and key members of the Obama administration, plus the imminent arrival of something different in Washington.

The second is a police investigation of the long-serving Prime Minister for criminal violations. At this time, we don’t know exactly what he is alleged to have done, but what we hear is that it involves improper gifts of significant worth from at least two prominent figures, one of whom is Israeli and one from somewhere else.

Among the stories is that the gifts are worth hundreds of thousands of shekels, and that the Prime Minister has been fussy about what he receives.

This suggests the role of Sara (I don’t want this; I want that.)

So far we have not heard that the Prime Minister is alleged to have provided his benefactors with anything substantial by way of a government decision. If that’s the case, the severe crime of bribery is not on the table. However, a prominent legal commentator has noted that courts have ruled that gifts of great value (i.e., more than a reasonable person can expect from a friend with no strings attached) carry the assumption of buying governmental favors.

All told, there may be enough, when combined with what may be a growing national fatigue with the Netanyahus, to bring about a change at the top.

A widespread Israeli perception, expressed by individuals in the center as well as a few on the left, is that Obama-Kerry went too far in not vetoing, and perhaps even creating, a UN Security Council resolution that put the onus on Israeli settlements for much that is wrong in this region. There is even harsher criticism for a long speech by Secretary of State Kerry. One of the most appropriate adjectives used by critics about Kerry’s speech was “gratuitous.” Negative comments about the Obama-Kerry posture have come from the British Prime Minister and ranking politicians elsewhere . Comments feature the excessive assignment of responsibility to Israel for the failure of negotiations, and the insistence on staking out a posture of blaming Israel after the loss of an election and the prospect of a contrary President.

There’s 70 or 100 years of history to analyze with respect to the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Currently there are signs of accommodation that allow many, perhaps most individuals on both sides of the divide to enjoy direct or indirect benefits of co-existence. The 100,000 or so Palestinians working in Israel make their contributions to both economies.

There is also continued incitement from Palestinian activists who work to destroy Israel, and Israelis who are loud in preferring a course of action that seems more likely to make things worse than to solve anything in a meaningful way.

The problematic Israelis are not most of those who have been living over the 1949 lines for up to 50 years, but those who would greatly expand the borders of existing settlements, and enact legislation annexing additional territory to Israel.

Until now, the settlers have lived reasonably well without Israel provoking international worthies by claiming anything more than an expansion of Jerusalem (1967) and the extension of Israeli law to the Golan (1981). To widen those actions would seem to annoy others more than it would solve Israel’s problems.

Jews have lived for some 3,000 years as a marginal people. The culture has adopted to the subtleties associated with the status, and its been risky to raise our collective claims too prominently. Israel represents the height of what Jews have accomplished politically and economically, but it still represents Jewish marginality in the suspicions and resolutions directed at it.

President-elect Trump has spoken in a much different way than Barack Obama or John Kerry about Israel, Palestine, and the Middle East, but no one should be sure as to how he will operate once he’s in office. Trump’s nominee as Ambassador to Israel seems likely to be a great friend of Israeli settlers and others to the right of center, but Trump’s nominee as Secretary of State, and Trump himself may be wary of sharp departures from State Department traditions.

Netanyahu’s future is equally unpredictable. Israel has a good record of keeping its highest officials within the bounds of legality, and throwing out of high office and sending to prison those who violate the rules. However, it takes a while to put someone like Moshe Katsav or Ehud Olmert where the judges ultimate said they belong. Olmert’s judicial nightmare (both for him and his supporters) dragged on for six years between his indictment and incarceration. Five years passed between the initial indication of serious charges against Katsav and his jailing for rape and obstruction of justice.

Despite the long process of conviction and final appeal, office holders may be forced to suspend themselves or resign once the evidence available in the media mounts, the public expresses outrage, and political colleagues decide that enough is enough.

Olmert resigned as Prime Minister as soon as he was indicted. Katsav resigned as President a year into the five year period of his judicial process.

Netanyahu has shown considerable skill in bobbing and weaving, and manipulating the leverage at his disposal to keep party and coalition partners in line. He’s well know for speaking as an extremist and acting as a moderate. So far, it’s been enough to satisfy restive allies, who are doing their own bobbing and weaving by speaking in one way and acting in others.

Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid, i.e., There is a Future) has done as well or better than Netanyahu in recent polls, but that is a long way from being able to topple the Prime Minister, or create a coalition if Netanyahu should stumble out of office due to a police investigation. Lapid might have trouble arranging a coalition with other parties showing strength in recent polls. If Bibi goes, there are several Likud MKs likely to think of themselves as next in line, who might have what it takes to keep the current coalition together for months or even years until the Knesset’s term expires.

This is not a time to predict, either about Israel’s international interests or its domestic politics. There may be a junction ahead of us, but we are still too far from it to read whether the signposts point directly ahead, or require a turn in one direction or another.

Reprinted with author’s permission from The Jerusalem Post

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