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The JC Comment Blog

Will the Israeli government fall this week?

Benjamin Netanyahu has too many balls in the air, argues Daniel Sugarman, and it's only a matter of time before he drops them all

    "Will the Israeli government fall this week?" - It’s a question which has been posed with increasing frequency over the last couple of years, as the country’s fragile ruling coalition has lurched from crisis to crisis.

    And at the heart of this is Benjamin Netanyahu, a Prime Minister whose position seems to be weakening by the day.

    The latest humiliating climb-down happened this week. Mr Netanyahu initially announced a plan which would have seen thousands of African migrants given legal status to stay in Israel, with an equal number being sent to Western countries. For the many who protested against Israel’s previous plan, which was deport thousands of African migrants to Uganda and Rwanda, the announcement was a welcome one.

    Just hours later, however, Mr Netanyahu cancelled the deal, despite having already signed it.

    This was correctly viewed as an abject capitulation to his right-wing base, many of whom were outraged at his earlier announcement.

    As has been pointed out by a number of commentators, this is not the first time Mr Netanyahu has withdrawn from a deal due to personal political pressure. The decision to create a proper egalitarian space at the Kotel was shelved last year, after the Prime Minister’s coalition partners made their displeasure clear.

    In both instances, an extremely popular move with many of Israel’s defenders in the diaspora was scrapped – not because it was the wrong thing to do, but because it affected Mr Netanyahu personally.

    L'Etat, c'est moi is a popular notion among would-be strongmen, and Mr Netanyahu is a prime example of this. I am the state – therefore, what is good for me is also good for the state.

    Over the last decade, Mr Netanyahu has attempted to portray himself as the indispensable man of Israeli politics – a father figure who keeps Israel safe from all of its many enemies. It is notable that even in this role of The Great Defender – supposedly right in his wheelhouse – he has made a mess of things. A decision last year to install cameras at the entrances to the Temple Mount after an Arab gunman shot two Israeli policemen was scrapped after significant resistance from both the Palestinians and surrounding Muslim countries.

    But, nonetheless, the Israeli Prime Minister continues to claim this increasingly unconvincing role for himself. Two weeks ago it was reported that a new slogan was being spread around a Likud rally: “Netanyahu – protector of Israel.” This was a particularly shameless nod to a famous verse from the Psalms about God – “Behold, He neither slumbers nor sleeps, the Protector of Israel.” But it is undoubtedly how Mr Netanyahu sees himself.

    There are no indispensable figures in a democratic political system. Mr Netanyahu is like a circus performer, walking across a tightrope while juggling a constantly increasing number of balls. He has kept everything in the air far longer than most would have thought him capable of, but it can only be a matter of time now before the whole thing – performer, balls and all – comes tumbling down. 

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