Plan Bibi: stalemate suits Netanyahu

48 min listen

Welcome to a slightly new format for the Edition podcast! Each week we will be talking about the magazine – as per usual – but trying to give a little more insight into the process behind putting The Spectator to bed each week. On the podcast this week: plan Bibi In the early hours of Friday morning, Benjamin Netanyahu leaked his ‘Day after Hamas’ plan for post-war Gaza. But the plan is not a plan, writes Anshel Pfeffer – it is just a set of vague principles that do not stand up to the slightest scrutiny. Its sole purpose is rather to keep the ministers of Netanyahu’s fragile cabinet together to ensure

Netanyahu’s war on lawyers has thrown Israel into turmoil

Chaos reigns in Israel, a country in the throes of an ad hoc general strike called by trade unions, university students, numerous industries across the country, and many military and civil defence reservists. Demonstrators are storming buildings and fighting the police. Some council leaders say they are beginning a hunger strike. If you wanted to fly into Ben Gurion airport today, as tens of thousands of people usually do of a weekday, I’m afraid you’re out of luck. It’s closed.  Why is all of this happening? In the immediate term, because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sacked his defence minister, Yoav Gallant. Gallant is a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party and is a loyalist. He said that Netanyahu should

Is a return to power in Netanyahu’s grasp?

Jerusalem ‘Netanyahu’s coming back soon, and he’ll be back with a vengeance!’ Simcha Rothman’s eyes flashed as he made his bold prediction. The normally mild-mannered lawyer, an ultra-nationalist Knesset member, was convinced. ‘He’s coming back and it’s all the left-wing’s fault for demonising him. If it wasn’t for them, the right-wing would have found a different leader by now. But the left made him into an icon and much more dangerous.’ Will Rothman be vindicated soon? It’s been a year since Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, was forced into opposition by an eclectic coalition of parties united only by their determination to keep him out office. At 72,

Naftali Bennett, the millionaire poised to be Israel’s next prime minister

Jerusalem In April 2019, Naftali Bennett received an unpleasant surprise. As the votes were counted in Israel’s general election, it became clear that his New Right party had not passed the 3.25 per cent electoral threshold needed to stay in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset. Bennett had lost his seat, his new party had failed and his political career looked like it was over. Two years, three more elections and a global pandemic later, Bennett is on the verge of ending Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12-year rule. Barring a spectacular reversal, he is about to become Israel’s prime minister. He has found himself in the right place at the right time, heading (though

Netanyahu’s departure would be good news for Israel

Time is running out for Bibi Netanyahu. In the next couple of days, the fate of Israel’s next government will be decided. If opposition parties manage to reach a deal tonight, it will mean that Bibi and the Likud will no longer be in power – for the first time in twelve years. Four rounds of elections made two things clear: that about two-thirds of the public votes for right-wing parties; and that Bibi has become the Israeli’s right’s biggest problem. A dozen years in power has made Netanyahu arrogant, entitled and hated by a large portion of the public, including right-wing voters. This has been made worse by deep resentment

Bibi is back

Is Benjamin Netanyahu’s time up? A fortnight ago, it seemed so. Netanyahu’s mandate for forming a coalition expired. The opportunity was handed instead to Yair Lapid, leader of Israel’s second largest political party Yesh Atid. Many dissatisfied Israelis started to hope: after four inconclusive elections, there was finally a chance to oust Netanyahu. But then hostilities broke out between Israel and Hamas, and reports of Netanyahu’s political death appear to be greatly exaggerated. In the weeks before this latest Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there was talk that Israel’s new government would be made up of an eclectic coalition that would include parties on the left, right and centre, as well as an Arab-Israeli party. Rather than relying on a common

Palestinians in Jerusalem live in a strange limbo

Jerusalem Thomas Friedman has a lot to answer for. The New York Times’s oracle has ruined, through overuse in his columns, the best source of local knowledge for journalists: the cab driver. No other hack can now quote his driver for fear of colleagues’ ridicule. Which is a pity, because the cab drivers in Jerusalem are those rare creatures who not only regularly cross between the three deeply divided cities — Zionist Jerusalem, ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem and Palestinian Jerusalem — but also converse freely with the denizens of all three. I wouldn’t be caught dead, of course, committing the cliché of quoting my driver, which was lucky because the one who

Can Iran help keep King Bibi in power?

Benjamin Netanyahu has a problem: he doesn’t have sufficient support to form a coalition. With 20 days left to complete this near impossible task, he is desperate; and, when backed into a corner, Netanyahu looks to Iran as his saviour. The timing of the recent explosion in Iran’s Natanz’s nuclear facility – and particularly the fact that Israel has done little to dispel the notion that it was to blame – suggests that the motivation was at least partially political.  This isn’t to say the attacks on Iran aren’t normally motivated by interests of national security. The threat of a nuclear-capable Iran is substantial: according to Iran, the Natanz nuclear site holds

Netanyahu’s shot at election success

For Israeli critics of Benjamin Netanyahu, myself included, these are rather difficult times. It’s hard for us, or anyone, to deny that he appears to be leading the world in vaccinations against Covid-19. In less than four weeks, two million Israelis — my parents and many friends among them — have received their inoculations. A project spearheaded by the Prime Minister himself promises a return to almost normal life. I’m under 50 and have no underlying illnesses, but am still confident of getting my own vaccine in a couple of weeks. Our world-beating jabbing speed means we have covered 20 per cent of the population. Britain, which has made far

Islam, reform and the battle of narratives

Is a wind of change blowing in the Arab world and bringing Muslims and Jews closer together? Ed Husain made the case for this in an article in our Christmas special issue: a younger generation is tiring of the hardliners, he said, asking what all the angst has achieved and wondering if Israel might be a decent ally for the Arab world. His article explored what he described as new maps of the Muslim mind, with ‘old hatreds on the run’. It drew predictable criticism from some quarters: surely this is wishful thinking, and his narrative of reconciliation has no real support in the Middle East? But that critique was blown

Trump is right about West Bank settlements – but it won’t help Israel

In the dying days of Bush’s America, when the culture war was a light skirmish over gays getting hitched in Massachusetts, ABC aired a primetime drama called Brothers and Sisters. Sally Field was the liberal matriarch of a glossy family divided by politics but united by the struggles of being rich, white and trapped in a soapy remake of the West Wing. It was simpering. It was derivative. It was camp-as-all-get-out. I never missed a single episode. In one episode, Calista Flockhart, who played an Ann Coulterish talking-head, returns home from flaming a Democrat on TV and is greeted by her lefty Uncle Saul: ‘Great show last night. As usual,

Is time finally up for Benjamin Netanyahu?

‘King Bibi’ they chanted at Likud’s victory party last night but Benjamin Netanyahu has not clinched victory and the crown could yet be snatched from his head. Israel’s second election of 2019 — a poll in April ended similarly in deadlock — is poised to end the reign of the country’s longest-serving prime minister. Votes are still being counted but centrist opposition Kachol Lavan is narrowly leading Likud. And when religious and other right-wing parties are counted, Netanyahu appears unable to reach the magic 61 seats required for a majority in the Knesset.  In ordinary times (if such times exist in Israeli politics) Bibi would be over the line with

What has Benjamin Netanyahu achieved?

There are little in the way of festivities but today is nonetheless a landmark in Israeli history: Benjamin Netanyahu becomes the country’s longest-serving prime minister, displacing beloved founding leader David Ben-Gurion. Netanyahu has been in charge for 4,876 days, governing for a three-year term in the late 1990s then continuously since 2009. His Israel would be unrecognisable to Ben-Gurion. Where the Old Man presided over an agrarian society surrounded by almighty Arab armies sworn to its destruction, the land of Bibi is the ‘Start-Up Nation’, an economy powered by technology and pharmaceuticals and undergoing a diplomatic spring with the Arab world. Israelis are happy, healthy and prosperous, and deadly terror attacks are at their lowest since 2013. But

Corbyn has made criticism of Israel impossible

If I were Benjamin Netanyahu (and I’m not) I would be thanking whatever gods there be for sending me, at a tricky time, the most useful ally it is possible to imagine in UK politics. To Bibi’s aid has come probably the only man in Britain capable of single–handedly silencing public criticism of the Israeli government’s disturbing new Basic Law, entitled ‘Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People’. If I were a British crusader for the Palestinian cause (and I’m not) I would be cursing whatever gods there be for sending — at a time when it might have been possible to rally critics of this unpleasant eruption of

Benjamin Netanyahu: Arab countries know that Iran wants to conquer them all

Bibi Netanyahu was in London this month after meeting Angela Merkel, Emanuel Macron and Theresa May, the leaders of the three European countries which had committed most to President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. Before he flew back to Israel he came to a crowded public meeting at Policy Exchange, whose director, Dean Godson, had asked me to talk with him. I asked him first what he had told the Europeans, who had reacted badly to President Trump’s unilateral action on Iran. ‘Well I’ll tell you what I didn’t tell them. I didn’t tell them to pull out of the Iran agreement – because I think it’s effectively defunct. The

False friends

Harold Macmillan once remarked that: ‘There are three bodies no sensible man ever directly challenges: the Roman Catholic Church, the Brigade of Guards and the National Union of Mineworkers.’ Today it’s tempting to add a fourth name to this list: the Conservative Friends of Israel. The CFI counts an estimated 80 per cent of Tory MPs among its members. It can whistle up cabinet ministers for its dinners and has superb access to Downing Street and Whitehall. This week, the CFI pulled off what looks like yet another coup with the remarkably muted British government reaction to Israel’s killing of approximately 60 and wounding of more than 2,500 Palestinian protesters

Katy Balls

Jerusalem Notebook | 17 May 2018

‘Trump Make Israel Great’ reads the banner on the deserted hotel next to the new American embassy in Jerusalem. Unlike most of the world population, Israelis regard the US President as a big improvement on Barack Obama. In government, his decision to move the embassy here from Tel Aviv has elevated him to near godlike status. ‘We are very lucky that the strongest kid in the classroom is on our side in this crazy school,’ is how Yoav Gallant, Israel’s housing minister, puts it. There is evidence for Trumpophilia all over the place. Signs proclaiming the US President a ‘friend of Zion’ are dotted around the Holy City and ‘God Bless

Notebook | 2 November 2017

There are many reasons political journalists get so many things so badly wrong. One is our tendency to overvalue liberal politicians. This explains why we have misunderstood Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, who has flown to London this week to join Theresa May at a dinner to celebrate the centenary of the Balfour Declaration. Frequently dismissed as a political thug, Mr Netanyahu is arguably the most successful Israeli premier of all time. If he wins the next election, he will overtake David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s father figure, as his country’s longest-serving prime minister. He has seen off all his domestic rivals. He faced down Barack Obama, and anticipated the rise

How can ‘needy’ Britain help Palestine when it can’t help itself?

A senior civil servant gave Andrew Rawnsley a haunting description of Brexit Britain’s new place in the world. When Theresa May visited Washington, he said, she looked ‘needy’. The diplomat summed up our future to perfection. Britain is now a needy country. The importuning Mrs May tours foreign capitals looking for emergency trade deals like a poor relation. Begging bowl in her hand and a wheedling note in her anxious voice, she can think of nothing but making ends meet. If it were not for Brexit, which never forget Mrs May opposed, the PM could act with European allies and try to bring a minimum of order to the chaos Trump

Jared Kushner’s Israel connection will delight Benjamin Netanyahu

Why, do you suppose, are people getting worked up about the nepotism angle of Donald Trump appointing his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as a senior policy adviser, with particular responsibility for the Middle East, when there’s so much else to worry about it? The one thing that should concern us is that it means that a friend of Benjamin Netanyahu, perhaps the most destabilising figures in Israeli politics, is now effectively in charge of policy in respect of the Israel–Palestine question. That’s right; Kushner is the young man who introduced Netanyahu to Trump. He was also presumably behind Trump’s incandescent response to the US abstention on the UN Security Council vote on