Benjamin Netanyahu: The Warlord



Commentary on the political trajectory of the Israeli Prime Minister.

When you read words like “Israel” on the news. “Hamas”, “Palestinians” and others around, the impression that remains is that we are in front of compact things, as if they were bricks, packed together and unitary. Nothing more misleading. In fact, they mirror mosaics of tensions and contradictions, disunities and misalignment. In this article we are going to explore some of them, starting with this continuous source of tension, contradiction, disunity and misalignment, called Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Israeli prime minister reminds me of the three-dimensional chess game in the “Star Trek” series, in which the long-eared Martian, Dr. Spock. It is said that the series motivated the construction of a real game. Outside the series, in our world, Netanyahu proves to be an excellent player of a multidimensional chess, in which several wars are articulated, of which he insists on being the master and, from my point of view, an evil master. There are at least three dimensions in which Netanyahu plays, with great mastery, since he entered the game, since the last century: the extremely complicated internal politics of Israel; the troubled scenario of the Middle East, with the Palestinian question and the relationship with the countries of the Muslim world; and the geopolitical scenario, especially that of the internal politics of the United States and also the correlate involving the European Union.

Netanyahu was born in 1949 in Tel Aviv: he is the first Israeli head of state born in independent Israel. Before him, Yitzhak Rabin was born in Jerusalem, in 1922, but when Palestine was a British “protectorate”. In his training, the current Israeli prime minister mixed long periods in Israel with long periods in the United States, where he became familiar with American culture and politics. He has always shown a clear preference for the more conservative side of US politics, that is, the Republican Party.

This preference crystallized when he got closer to Arthur Finkelstein (1945-2017), the main publicist in campaigns for the North American right. Upon entering Israeli politics, Netanyahu became his client, who also guided the campaigns of, among others, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan (in the United States), Ariel Sharon and Avigdor Lieberman (in Israel), Viktor Órban (in Hungary) , in addition to having acted in Romania, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Kosovo, the Czech Republic, and along with dozens of other North American politicians, always on the right.

Netanyahu, in fact, a preferred client, imported into Israeli politics the juice of the style advocated by Finkelstein, aggressive, stigmatizing opponents, tenaciously setting goals for which agreements made with other parties are nothing more than intermediate steps, to be abandoned as soon as circumstances allow a step further. Finkelstein privileged the use of targets or keywords to be repeated to exhaustion, as, for example, in the 80s/90s, he did with the term “liberal”, trying to make it synonymous with something “evil”, “incompetent”. , "loose".

Traces of this style can be seen in Netanyahu's obsession with stigmatizing Iran's "nuclear potential", when Israel is the main suspect in the region of having an arsenal of atomic weapons, or, on the positive side, in his insistence on claiming a “defensive vital space” for Israel, but with expansionist characteristics, contrary to UN resolutions (whose 1947 resolution guaranteed the existence of the country, with its independence proclaimed in 1948) de facto annexing territories claimed by the Palestinians to belong to their State . Netantayhu did not invent the illegal annexations under International Law, made after the 1967 War, but he gave them more prominence, including having the support of former US President Donald Trump, and increased them with the promotion of the establishment of new “colonies” in the occupied territories.

One of the characteristics that Netanyahu imported into Israeli politics from Finkelstein's style was that of being ruthless not only with his enemies or opponents, but also with his co-religionists and allies. He was displacing them and marginalizing them from his kingdom, as happened with Avigdor Lieberman, one of his main allies in the past, among others, including Yair Lapid, today his most important rival.

Sharon's case is curious. It was during his tenure as prime minister that the Israeli government recognized, as part of the move towards peace agreements in 2005, the need to displace Israeli settlers established in the Gaza Strip. There were 21 settlements, which were transferred, one by one, to other territories within Israel. The decision, taken within a conservative Likud party government, provoked a strong backlash within its own ranks.

The attitude led by Sharon came to be seen as the spearhead of a willingness to retreat from Israel's occupation of territories claimed by the Palestinians. Today, with his aggressive policy regarding the occupation of new territories, Netanyahu capitalizes on that dissatisfaction, burying the legacy of his former ally. One can even read in the relentless destruction of civilian buildings in the Gaza Strip, with the bombing hitting homes, hospitals and schools a kind of “revenge” in the face of that “retreat” by Sharon, on the grounds of destroying the infrastructure of Hamas (which, it should be noted, still exists, despite the damage).

The mention of a former Netanyahu ally, Ariel Sharon (now deceased), brings to light the complication that is Israel's domestic political tangle. In the country's unicameral parliament, the Knesset, with 120 seats, 7 government and 16 opposition parties or tendencies coexist. This world is made up of a complex agglomeration of pragmatic trends and parties, nationalists, messianic-nationalists, different religious orthodoxies, ethnic representation, conservatives, social democrats, in short, something that is more like a multifaceted and fragmented mosaic than a solid brick. Likud, Netanyahu's party, has long had the largest number of seats, but it has not been able to define a clear and stable majority.

Skilled and devious, Netanyahu managed to survive amidst this mess, becoming the main leader of an exacerbated, expansionist Israeli nationalism, allying himself with the religious extreme right while achieving the feat of becoming a champion neoliberal in economics without confronting the social democratic aura of some of the basic social services in the country, such as in the areas of education and health, still a legacy of laborism and dreams of a socialist utopia, which guided the construction of the first kibbutzim, helping many left-wing Jews flock to Israel. In addition to supporting and leaning on the Israeli Armed Forces, Netanyahu also manages to lean firmly on the three arms of Israel's intelligence service, the Shin Bet (internal), the Safe (military) and the Mossad (external), a service that has an extremely aggressive and ubiquitous policy inside and outside the country.

Without a stable and consolidated majority, Netanyahu made increasingly right-wing alliances to maintain himself in government, while at the same time managing to prevent the fragmented opposition forces from also forming a united front against him.

In this latest episode of repression against Palestinians in East Jerusalem, with the attack on the Al-Aqsa mosque, on the West Bank, and with the bombing of the Gaza Strip, Netanyahu has so far managed to prevent his opponent, Yair Lapid, ex-Likud and today party leader Yesh Atid, form a new government. Netanyahu did not, after the last election; President Reuven Rivlin recalled Lapid, giving him early June to form the new government. This one was about to get it, when the state of belligerence began. Some of the parties that would take part in the new coalition backed down, and the future is uncertain.

Cornered by several accusations of administrative impropriety and corruption, with lawsuits already being filed against him, Netanyahu has been increasingly depending on his image as a “warlord” to guarantee his political survival. If he falls from the government, he could even end up in jail; he will certainly fall into political ostracism, at least at first. It's been two years since Israeli elections ended in stalemate, which gives Netanyahu time to remain at the head of government.

There are analysts who say that Hamas, which commands Palestinian policy in Gaza, is a precious “assistant” of Netanyahu, with its rockets launched against civilian populations. I don't know to what extent this can be confirmed. But I call attention to an important point. The international media news corroborates an image – also of Hamas – as a monolithic bloc, which, in fact, is very far from reality.

Founded in 1987, from a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt, which had a presence in Gaza, Hamas (acronym for the “Islamic Resistance Movement”) has at least two major arms: the Fall, of social service, and the Brigades Izz ad-Din al-Qassam (a reference to a Muslim leader in Palestine killed during resistance to the British in 1935), who are its military branch, with great autonomy and also composed of different tendencies. O Fall he was responsible for a strict policy to combat drug trafficking and the exploitation of prostitution in Gaza, which catapulted Hamas' popularity.

Hamas military leaders claim their actions are in retaliation for "Israeli aggression". From 1993 they began to use suicide attacks against military targets, but soon also began to attack civilians. They allege that this last step took place only after the so-called “Hebron Massacre”, which occurred when, in 1994, an American-Israeli right-wing extremist, Baruch Goldstein, attacked a mosque in that city, killing 29 Palestinians and injuring another 125. he was clubbed to death by survivors of the massacre, and the Israeli government, at the time, took a series of measures against extremist groups in Israel. Today his tomb is a reason for pilgrimage for right-wing extremists, who consider him a martyr in the fight for Israel.

From 2001 onwards, Hamas brigades began to use rockets against the civilian population, as they have done in recent episodes. Proponents of the rockets claim they are a legitimate response by the Palestinian people to Israeli aggression. Critics point out that the rockets hit, above all, the civilian population and are the justification for several countries to consider the whole of Hamas as a terrorist organization, which harms the Palestinian movement as a whole.

In the current context, the difference in numbers has weakened the Israeli political position abroad. All the deaths are regrettable, but the disparity is glaring. In Gaza alone, at least 212 people died this time, including 61 children and dozens of women. Dozens of civilian buildings and schools were destroyed, hospitals were damaged, leaving thousands of Palestinians homeless. On the so-called West Bank, 20 Palestinians died as a result of Israeli repression. The wounded and arrested numbered in the thousands.

On the Israeli side, 12 people were killed, including 2 children. The crackdown on Palestinians gathered at the Al-Aqsa mosque to celebrate the rites and end of Ramadan also shocked many people around the world. The Israeli military's argument that in Gaza they were destroying Hamas' infrastructure, including its network of tunnels, lost force in the face of the number of civilians killed.

However, none of this stopped Netanyahu from going ahead and defending the bombing of Gaza, even destroying the building that housed international news agencies, stating that he would continue the offensive until reaching his military objectives. It is not known how, but there must have been some pressure from the US government on the Israeli government for the bombing to be stopped, reaching a ceasefire with Hamas. Even so, the situation remains threatening, also because Netanyahu has a style of governing that sees, in eventual agreements, just one more step to proceed later in the attempt to realize his own objectives prior to the agreement.

Netanyahu moves with great ease on the also complicated chessboard of US politics. He had the unrestricted support of former President Donald Trump and the vast majority, to say the least, of Republicans. But in the name of defending the State of Israel, it also has the support of the Democrats and of President Joe Biden, who depends on granting this support to balance his position in the internal politics of the United States and his position of leadership before allies on the board. geopolitical, without which its leadership within the Democratic Party establishment itself would be weakened. Netanyahu knows this, and he knows how to play with it, which counterbalances his position of dependence on the United States at the military level, through the latter's sale and purchase by Israel of weapons, in addition to political dependence.

There is an Israeli left and peace movements committed to a two-state solution, Israeli and Palestinian, to redefine a non-belligerent balance in the region. They even have a party – considered center-left, Meretz, with 6 seats in the current parliament, affiliated with the Socialist International and the Progressive Alliance Movement, founded in Leipzig, Germany, in 2013. to the government of Israel widen into generalized criticism against the country as a whole and all its citizens, and can immediately devolve into forms of anti-Semitism directed against the Jewish people. They don't stop being right. However, it must be recognized that this negative stigma tends to remain reinforced as long as Israel continues to be led by politicians like Netanyahu, the lord of all wars.

Flavio Aguiar, journalist and writer, is a retired professor of Brazilian literature at USP. Author, among other books, of Chronicles of the World Upside Down (Boitempo).


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