The recent 11-day conflict between Israel and Gaza reinforces what I have been saying all along. While preparing for this piece I noticed that in the past three years Benjamin Netanyahu’s name found some 26 mentions in my writings. It was often accompanied by one or two other names and usually involved one warning. But all of that in good time. Today, I need you to view things only from the vantage point of a voter who supported Netanyahu or the two other leaders who will feature later. Suspend the attention paid to the other side in the conflict, not for the want of pain, suffering, or righteous indignation there but based on the simple assumption that for a voter like that it might be a non-factor, somebody else’s problem.
So, if you are a voter who votes for Netanyahu, what are your likely expectations? Safety of the homeland? The economic and military strength of the country? Political stability and global clout where you can even help the diaspora against the unwarranted cases of harassment? And what do you get?
Israel’s longest-serving prime minister has been in power without a break since 2009. And this isn’t his first rodeo. He first became Israel’s prime minister in 1996 and his stint lasted until 1999. Now, curiously enough in his recent 12 years in power Israel has become more polarised and so politically unstable that in the past two years alone it has held four elections without a clear political outcome. Meanwhile, by hook or by crook he has maintained his grip on power in a caretaker capacity. In terms of economics, the country has struggled to pass a budget in the intervening period. And what of military strength and physical safety of the homeland? The answer is more interesting than you would think. Let us look at the comprehensive picture, shall we?
To understand Israel’s current security predicament, you have to understand the sequence of events leading up to the recent crisis. The security situation in Jerusalem remained volatile throughout the Muslim month of Ramazan given an imminent court verdict expected to evict Arab families from the tiny neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah. If you are looking at sinister motives behind this verdict your misgivings will not be misplaced given that the case has been pending since 2009 and it was expected to be announced when Netanyahu was struggling to form a government after the fourth inconclusive election. After he fails to form a government, the Israeli president offers the 28-day mandate to his chief rival and former finance minister Yair Lapid on May 5, and May 6 is the first day of the said mandate. May 6 incidentally is also the date when the situation in Jerusalem flares up and Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers are sent into Al Aqsa Mosque when prayers are going on. A video soon emerges where the IDF can be seen lobbing stun grenades at Muslim worshippers in prayer rooms. Religious Muslim media and social media ecosystem then informs us that the prayers were being offered to mark Al Qadr, a holy Muslim night. Very soon two more reports emerge. One, about a warning issued by Hamas to withdraw troops from Al Aqsa and Sheikh Jarrah. And the other, about an expected meeting between Lapid, Naftali Bennett, a former defense minister and the head of right-wing Yamina party, and Mansour Abbas, the head of recently minted Ra’am party. The meeting is scheduled to take place on May 10. If this meeting is successful, Netanyahu who is under trial in three different cases of corruption is done would have to leave office and would most certainly end up in jail. He pays no heed to the Hamas deadline, and on May 10 the Palestinian militant group launches seven missiles at Israel. Two developments follow. The Gaza-Israel crisis. And reports that Bennett who is already facing death threats from Netanyahu supporters has sought to indefinitely postpone his meeting with Lapid and Abbas plunging the coalition talks into crisis. If you are startled by the reports of Netanyahu supporters threatening Bennett, well, don’t be. This is very much a part and parcel of the former’s MO. Before his first elevation to the premiership in 1996, he led a successful hate campaign against the then-premier Yitzhak Rabin, culminating in Rabin’s murder by a right-wing extremist in November 1995.
Also, take a look at Hamas from an Israeli’s point of view. Hamas serves as a bogeyman for the Israeli right. Since its last confrontation with Israel in 2014, while Gazans have suffered Hamas has been directly rewarded by whatever passes for Netanyahu’s concessions to Gaza. The group also serves as a convenient force to make moderate and politically savvy Palestinian groups like Fatah irrelevant. If that was not all the group also faces internal competition. If Netanyahu stays in power the group’s rise and freedom from factionalism are guaranteed.
Netanyahu has always maintained that there is no two-state solution and one state is good for all. That should have meant peaceful Jewish-Arab coexistence within Israel. However, as soon as the reports of fresh hostilities between Gaza and Israel emerged, messages went out in far-right Israeli Telegram groups exhorting people to come out and attack Arab neighbourhoods. The incidents that followed were aired live on national television including an attempted mob lynching of an Arab shopkeeper. The desired cycle of violence continued for days. There were casualties on both sides. Israeli casualties. Apart from this, 12 people have died in Israel, including a five-year-old and a 16-year-old girl, and hundreds have been injured as a direct result of the Gaza-Israel conflict. All of this to keep one corrupt man in power? Wag the dog much? Phew!
Who does this remind you of? Donald Trump? Well, almost but not quite. The Telegram bit does because his supporters in the QAnon community regularly use the platform. Authorities around the world need to take a long, hard look at the app.
But the man I had in mind is none other than India’s Narendra Modi who successfully used the 2019 stand-off with Pakistan to win an election. But what did his supporters get in the end? An incompetent government that polarised the country, terrorised the population, destroyed the economy, and is throwing the dead bodies of its supporters in rivers to downplay the Covid death numbers. Imagine, how stupid you have to be to do that? And yet such governments stay in power by hook or by crook.
Word has it that pressure is mounting on state actors in both these regions to throw another set of lifelines to these two struggling politicians. But whosoever does that will not be judged kindly by history.
At any rate, now that their tricks are out in the open, I feel I have every right to say I told you so!