Monday, June 21, 2021

West of Eden: Post-Bibi

Demonstration outside the Prime Minister's Jerusalem residence in May. Photo by Ohad Zwigenberg/Haaretz.

One of the least edifying spectacles in the recent international politics news has been that produced in Jerusalem by Binyamin Netanyahu going Trump one better and really refusing to leave the prime minister's official residence on Balfour Street for weeks, though he hasn't been prime minister since 6 April. 

Not that he's sitting in the living quarters frowning, with his hands tucked into his armpits, daring them to carry him out, as Trump might be doing. Indeed, he's been receiving official visitors, including former ambassador Nikki Haley and abominable pro-Armageddon pastor John Hagee (recovered from his bout with Covid-19 last November). I guess Netanyahu is still the negotiating partner of the not-at-all-anti-Semitic Christian Zionists looking to Israel to hasten the Day of Judgment when all the unconverted Jews will be thrown into the Lake of Fire.

He's occupying his seat in the Knesset as official opposition leader, and he has managed to vacate the prime minister's office, though not apparently without some possibly illegal serious shredding:

Workers in the Prime Minister’s Office claim there was a significant amount of document shredding in the hours before the transfer of power from Benjamin Netanyahu to Naftali Bennett and the new government last week, Channel 12 news reported Sunday.

According to the unnamed employees, it was those closest to Netanyahu who carried out the shredding and not regular office clerks.

The PMO’s security officer is set to begin a probe of the matter and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit will also be involved in the inquiry, the station reported.

He also left quite a tangle of international intrigue that is likely to remain secret forever, as Yossi Verter complained at Haaretz, giving incoming PM Naftali Bennett just half an hour to talk about any of it with him:

Dozens of private diplomatic conversations with world leaders, agreements and understandings that go unmentioned in meeting minutes, the Iranian nuclear issues or strategic ties with the American government about which private conversations were held with Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump: All of these remain in Netanyahu’s notebooks and his memory, as if they were his private possession. The heads of the intelligence community who briefed Bennett know only some of these issues – what they were told.

His corruption trial is currently suspended to give lawyers time to absorb a bunch of new evidence in Case 4000, 

in which Netanyahu is alleged to have abused his powers when he served as both premier and communications minister from 2014 to 2017, in order to illicitly and lucratively benefit the business interests of Bezeq telecom company’s controlling shareholder [Shaul] Elovitch.

In exchange, Elovitch allegedly provided Netanyahu and his family with positive coverage on the Elovitch-owned Walla news website, including allowing the then-prime minister’s associates and family members to dictate editorial content and policy on a regular basis.

in the form of 350,000 messages and emails from the phone of former Walla CEO Yilan Yeshua, including one in which Elovitch told Yeshua "Netanyahu would commit suicide for me." Although the defense is now claiming this was an exaggeration. Anyway the trial is set to resume on 5 July with the continuation of Yeshua's interrupted testimony.

I'm feeling strangely optimistic about the whole situation, not just because Netanyahu keeps revealing himself on all these tracks as a corrupt and pathetic clown. A lot of press coverage has earnestly worried about Bennett, regarded as somewhat fanatically anti-Arab, without realizing how limited his power is going to be in this new incredibly broad coalition. 

It's much more significant that an Arab party, Ra'am, has been admitted to the coalition, not because it will drag the government to the "left"—it certainly won't do that, being a Muslim Brotherhood–style conservative group—but because it fits right in with the Israeli-style identity politics, as I was saying at the time of the election in March, making demands for its members just as the religious Russians and the non-religious Russians and the ultra-Orthodox Sephardim and the secular Sephardim and so on do, normalizing an Arab presence as just another faction in the scrum looking for favors in return for backing the PM. This is not heading toward the Holy Grail of the two-state solution, but perhaps beginning the process that could lead to an ordinary one-state avoiding full-scale apartheid.

It looks more as if the situation of Palestinians in the occupied territories is not going to get better under this government, but it's not going to get worse either. The officially "left" parties plus Ra'am won't allow the latter and the others won't allow the former. This government is going to be paralyzed, if it wants to continue existing, from doing any of the things we absolutely don't want an Israeli government to do, and I think it's definitely going to choose continued existence over the threat of a Netanyahu return.

Professor Cole thinks the most significant presence in the new government is that of Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu, the secular Russians, another ethnic cleansing force in campaigns but a still more relentless opponent of the demands of the ultra-Orthodox, which has succeeded in keeping the Haredi parties out of the government. I'm not clear how his presence as finance minister contributes to solving the housing crisis, which will take taxation, which is the thing Yisrael Beitenu really hates, but it looks as if the government is already taking the position that the Jewish Taliban need to allow Jewish women to pray at the Western Wall, a relaxation that is also overdue:

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