By Douglas Bloomfield – Israel’s most extreme right coalition is foundering, with its leaders turning on each other and planning the demise of the prime minister so they can have his job. At least half of Netanyahu’s Cabinet is jockeying to succeed him and more are waiting outside.
Lone Wolf Diplomacy
His latest problem is keeping them from opening their own lines of communication with the incoming Trump administration and trying to win the next president’s support for their views. Netanyahu ordered his Cabinet colleagues to stop unilaterally reaching out to Trump Tower, but that is unlikely to stem the lone wolf diplomacy.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett could hardly contain himself, declaring Donald Trump’s election a sign that America would drop its support for Palestinian statehood. He rushed off to New York City to see Trump aides, not bothering to inform the prime minister. Bennett wanted to tout his plan for annexing the rest of the West Bank and offering the Palestinians “autonomy on steroids” but no state. Netanyahu may share a desire to drop the two-state approach, but he is burned up about Bennett’s free-lancing. He also wants Israel to keep a low profile on the peace and settlements issues until January 20 because he fears a White House backlash.
Uri Ariel, a member of Bennett’s Jewish Home Party, is trying to open his own back channel to Trump’s top strategic advisor, Steve Bannon, absolving him of charges of anti-Semitism.
Ariel, the agriculture minister, gave Netanyahu another headache when he impulsively gave visiting Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev a $50,000 scientific drone in violation of government restrictions on transferring sensitive technology. Fortunately wiser heads stopped Ariel from giving away the classified software.
Sub Scandal Rises
Roiling the troubled waters of the Netanyahu government is the submarine scandal. The prime minister went against the advice of his then-defense minister and top navy and army brass to order three additional submarines from Germany in a deal brokered by his personal lawyer and cousin, who has ties to the manufacturer, ThyssenKrupp. The 2014 deal was just exposed by the media, revealing how the prime minister bypassed standard government procurement procedures. Netanyahu said he didn’t bother telling the defense forces because he wanted to sign the deal while Angela Merkel is still chancellor. The boats wouldn’t be delivered for about 10 years. The stench is spreading, and the attorney general is investigating
(Interestingly, while the Israeli Navy goes to sea in its German-built submarines, the Luftwaffe flies Israeli-built drones.)
IDF Rabbi, Interior Minister Offend
Making more waves for Netanyahu’s government is the appointment of a chief rabbi for the Israel Defense Forces who has made inflammatory comments against homosexuals and women. He had said it was all right for soldiers to rape “attractive Gentile women” during war, kill wounded suicide bombers and that the New Testament should be burned, according to several media reports. He was allowed to take office and get promoted to general after he apologized and repudiated prior statements.
The Cabinet’s resident convicted felon, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, spent two years in prison for corruption and bribery in 2000-2002 the last time he held the same job, and is once again under investigation. But Netanyahu won’t dump him because as head of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party he has threatened to pull out of the coalition and bring down the government. He is also a driving force in blocking an agreement the prime minister signed last year to establish a separate section at the Kotel for egalitarian prayer. Netanyahu is stalling because he is more afraid of Deri and the Charedi than he is of Reform and Conservative Jews, who Deri says are “not the Jewish religion.” Deri wants to forbid non-Orthodox prayer at the Western Wall.
Settlers May Become Violent
Netanyahu is also trying to avoid obeying an Israeli High Court order to remove Amona, an illegal West Bank outpost. In addition to the religious extremists, he’s also terrified of the settler movement, which could turn violent if the government enforces the court’s mandate. Bennett and others are pushing a law to legalize all the illegal settlements, but that could not only provoke Palestinian violence but also strengthen a complaint by Palestinians before the International Criminal Court in the Hague. It could also cause massive diplomatic headaches at the U.N. Security Council and with the outgoing Obama administration.
Legislation in the Knesset, with Netanyahu’s backing would muzzle the muezzin and their speakers on mosques throughout Israel calling the faithful to prayer every day. Sponsors say it is needed to combat noise pollution; Palestinian leaders have angrily denounced the move as impeding their freedom to practice their religion and are threatening to take their complaints to the U.N. The head of the Orthodox Church in Israel condemned the draft law, saying church bells could be next. Ultra-Orthodox Jews want an exemption for the sirens used Friday evenings in their areas to announce the beginning of the Sabbath.
Devastating forest fires swept Haifa and northern Israel recently. Police say the main cause was extremely dry conditions and high winds, but some blazes were also set by arsonists. It’s too early to assess completely. Netanyahu sought foreign help, and it came from a dozen countries, including Egypt and Jordan. The Palestinian Authority sent eight fire trucks and about 40 firefighters; Netanyahu ultimately phoned to thank Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for the P.A. contribution.
Netanyahu is a skilled survivor who is the longest serving prime minister in Israeli history. It will take more than scandal, infighting and U-Boats to sink his government.