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A year of unfinished business

We look back at the big stories from Israel in 2017 in our end-of-year round-up

    Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly government meeting at the Prime Ministers office in Jerusalem, on December 17, 2017. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
    Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly government meeting at the Prime Ministers office in Jerusalem, on December 17, 2017. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

    As the year draws to an end in Israel, there is only one issue on the agenda: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s alleged corruption. When will the police finally wrap up its investigation and will they, as expected, recommend he be indicted?

    Looking back over 2017, it is hard to find anything else that has dominated news-cycles in Israel like the investigations that began last year overshadowing the political sphere, with everyone waiting for the climactic moment that never arrived.

    Boring years don’t exist in Israeli history, but 2017 was as close as you could get to one. It was a year without any truly dramatic or pivotal events, and just a lot of waiting around for unfinished business to get resolved.

    Not only did an indictment against Mr Netanyahu not materialise, but his unhappy coalition remained surprisingly intact. There were a few wobbles, such as when Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon fought with him over the launch of the new public broadcasting corporation, and sparring between Likud and Strictly Orthodox ministers over infrastructure work on Shabbat. In both cases, compromises were found.

    Elsewhere in politics, most of the controversial laws pushed by the government — such as one designed to silence police investigations of politicians — were eventually abandoned or postponed. The Labour Party yet again replaced its leader, but newcomer Avi Gabbay languishes in the polls, just like his predecessor Isaac Herzog.

    It was a status-quo year, too, in Israel’s relations with its neighbours. Tension with the Palestinians simmered but, with the exception of two very brief outbreaks of violence in July and December, things held.

    The same holds for the tense borders with Gaza, Lebanon and Syria. Occasionally, a rocket or mortar bomb fell on the Israeli side; Israel responded with air-strikes and mysterious targets were bombed in the night deep within Syria. But these were the same cycles of previous years, not an escalation, and the question-marks over the future of Gaza and post-war Syria still loom unresolved. More unfinished business for next year.

    On the foreign policy front, there was a lot of coming and going, with dozens of heads of state visiting Israel, including the first visit by an Indian prime minister. Mr Netanyahu himself spent nearly two months on trips abroad, but did not change much — as last week’s UN vote against the US recognition of Jerusalem showed.

    One important relationship for Israel did suffer: the one with the Jewish diaspora, as progressive American Jews in particular raged at Mr Netanyahu for an overly-warm friendship with President Trump and for ditching the Western Wall prayer-space agreement.

    The economy was a mixed bag as well. The main indices remained favourable, but there was no easing the burden on working- and middle-class families. Consumer prices and, crucially, house prices remained high. The biggest economic event of the year, the purchase of technology company Mobileye by Intel for nearly $16 billion (£12 billion) was offset when medicine-maker Teva, Israel’s biggest private corporation, prepared to close down factories and lay off thousands of workers.

    It was a year for significant anniversaries: 50 years since the Six-Day war, a century since the Balfour Declaration (although that was a much bigger event in London than in Jerusalem), and 120 years since the first Zionist Congress.

    Now Israel is kicking off the year of its 70th anniversary, but will Mr Netanyahu still be around in April to lead the celebrations?

     

    Anshel Pfeffer is the JC’s Israel Correspondent

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