Analysis: Bibi survives his first year, but has done little

By Shmuel Rosner, February 11, 2010
PM Binyamin Netanyahu last week. He has had a relatively quiet year

PM Binyamin Netanyahu last week. He has had a relatively quiet year

In recent weeks, the Israeli media has been obsessively covering the whereabouts of PM Binyamin Netanyahu’s wife, Sara. News flash: she fired a house maid! News flash: she intervened on behalf of a candidate for ambassadorship. News flash: Sara is at it again! And again! And again!

Guess what? The Israeli public, or at least 56 per cent of it, finds this obsession, or fascination, or attraction to all-things-Sara, “insensitive” (40 per cent) or “too critical” (16 per cent). Mrs Netanyahu was blamed for identical misbehaviour when Mr Netanyahu was prime minister first time round, more than a decade ago, and Israelis are no longer interested.

While Mr Netanyahu’s personal ratings may have taken a slight dip, the coalition remains strong, and more people say they would vote for Mr Netanyahu’s party, Likud, than a year ago.

So looking back on his past year in office — Mr Netanyahu was elected a year ago this month — Bibi is probably breathing a sigh of relief. He has enjoyed a relatively calm year. There was no war, the economic crisis was handled well and hurt Israel less than most, there was little turbulence in religious affairs and no need for real compromises or sacrifices related to peace processes.

It was a year in which all “big” decisions could be postponed for later. Should Israel attack Iran? Reach agreements with the Palestinians or Syrians? Evacuate settlements rather than temporarily freeze them? Not right now.

It was a relatively easy year for a man holding this uneasy job. A relatively easy year for Israelis, always appreciative of little time out between crises.

Thus, news about Sara is good news for Mr Netanyahu and his political agenda. Whenever there is nothing much to talk about, the press tend to dwell on personal misdemeanours and the PM’s office politics: official number one vs official number three, who is “in” and who is “out”.

These are topics that barely interest the public, and have no clear impact on strategic matters.

However, this calm first year may bear some rotten fruit next year — which is shaping up as quite rocky and eventful by comparison.

International pressure surrounding the Goldstone Report has shown just how badly Israel’s image has suffered because of last year’s Cast Lead operation in Gaza.

Israel clearly has not yet found a way to effectively fight these battles of delegitimisation.

And there is the ongoing uneasiness surrounding Mr Netanyahu’s relations with American President Barack Obama.

Yes, the initial bumpy start seems to be over and the governments are settling into a more business-like mode of operation. Nevertheless, the intimacy that Israelis got used to both with the Bush and the Clinton administration is still missing.

This can prove a damaging, even dangerous factor, in times of real crisis. Especially so in times of war.

Two weeks before election day last year, in a rousing speech in front of thousands of Likud supporters gathered in Jerusalem, Mr Netanyahu outlined “the most daunting challenge we face”: that is, “preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon”.

In his first year, Mr Netanyahu may have accomplished the one prerequisite necessary for any politician to achieve any goal — political survival — but he has little else to show.

He did not bring peace, he did not win a war, he did not stop Iran. And the storm clouds are gathering.

Shmuel Rosner blogs at Rosner’s Domain

Last updated: 4:47pm, February 11 2010