DAINE: Never before has a sitting Prime Minister been tried during his tenure. There is no case law here. Israel has been in unprecedented territory, and no one has known the answer to it. He forced the judiciary and the Supreme Court to play an unprecedented role and potentially make decisions he has never had to face before. This is one of the reasons Netanyahu, as prime minister, took such a populist approach and went to war with justice. Netanyahu called the Supreme Court and the judiciary politicized in order to present his legal battles as political and not related to crimes he might have committed. Israel does not have a written constitution. And in many ways, the Netanyahu era brought Israel to unprecedented legal territory that raised questions about the powers and immunities and the responsibilities and accountability of its prime minister to the rule of law. . This is one of the questions Netanyahu as prime minister raised. Obviously, he will be much more legally vulnerable now that he is no longer Prime Minister. But he will always be a Member of Parliament, which is not trivial.
GAZETTE: Where is Israel today compared to where it was when Netanyahu first became prime minister?
DAINE: What people, especially folks internationally, don’t appreciate, I think, is that much of Netanyahu’s sustainability stems from this feeling he projected to a plurality if not to the majority of Israeli voters that under his rule, Israel had a pair of hands. Despite the bravado and harsh rhetoric, Netanyahu was not an adventurer. He is not someone who quickly started war or used force. He is quite shrewd and restrained, often, when it comes to areas where others, even to his left, would have been more hawkish. One does not need to look any further than the kind of informal and tacit arrangements he has made over the years with Hamas in Gaza. In many ways, it was largely his right-wing credibility, his right-wing bravado, that allowed him to make the kind of compromises that allowed Hamas in Gaza to receive money and supplies through Israel that Netanyahu in opposition has reportedly criticized.
Second, he oversaw the expansion of Israel’s global relations quite dramatically – Israel’s relations, especially with regard to Africa, South Asia and Asia, Russia and the Eastern Europe, and more recently the Gulf. So there was this feeling in Israel, for a regime that was quite jaded and disenchanted with politics, of “We maybe don’t like this guy; we may not like this guy; but it does not prevent us from sleeping at night.
During his 12 years, rivals have come and gone, but no sustained political heavyweight has managed to emerge to challenge him.
It is either a prelude to Netanyahu’s return or what we see is a transition to a new era in Israeli politics. By definition, the new government is not designed for and does not offer a vision for Israel other than internal reconstruction and the re-ordering of the house of Israel. But it’s a prelude to a new era in his politics, and we just don’t know what it’s going to look like. But one of the main reasons this new government deal is getting so much attention is that, for the very first time, Arab parties in Israel are fully part of the game in a way they have never played before. . And it is unprecedented.
LIVNI: People tend to think of Netanyahu as personal. The situation in which different parties, different political leaders, different people or different parts of Israeli society were against Netanyahu and took to the streets to protest, is also because what happened in Israel, or tendencies that he directed inside Israel, were primarily against Israeli democratic institutions, against the Supreme Court, against law enforcement. It’s about what he did. He delegitimized – not only delegitimized political opponents, but also described them, myself included, as traitors, as those who represent the interests of the Palestinians, in his own words. And within Israeli society, it was something that led to internal clashes and mistrust. I hope that this political unity will lead to a whole different mode of internal discussion within Israel. Yes, that’s right, we have different opinions, and there is debate. To make the necessary decisions in Israel, it is necessary to have this debate. From my perspective, unity is not just about sitting still, not opening the debate or not talking about what needs to be done. And there are controversial questions. I hope this political unity will lead to a whole different mode of discussion – respecting each other, understanding that we have different opinions. [about] where Israel needs to go, but we represent all the interests of our country as we see it [it]. In recent years, the debate has been more about blame, about delegitimizing the other, and not about a full discussion.
GAZETTE: What effect, if any, would Netanyahu’s absence have on the agreements that Israel has made with others in the region in recent years, the so-called Abraham Agreements, and do you see early indications from Israel’s neighbors or others, including the United States, that suggests how they can engage with this new leadership?
DAINE: I don’t think it’s going to have a dramatic impact on Israel’s most recent diplomatic overtures. United Arab Emirates [United Arab Emirates] and Bahrain, and others, made peace with Israel for geostrategic reasons of self-interest and that’s not going to change because Netanyahu is gone. But I would also add that I think this new government, if it takes place, will also offer a real opportunity to perhaps change the dynamic in the US-Israel relationship. Israel under Netanyahu has really changed the way US-Israel relations are conducted. Netanyahu, especially his decision not only to oppose the Permanent President of the United States, President Obama in 2015, but to come to the United States and speak in Congress against the Permanent President of the United States, was quite dramatic. . And what he did was he really broke the traditional two-party approach to Israel in the United States. He aligned Israel under Netanyahu with the Republican Party, and Netanyahu and Trump were fairly closely aligned.
This new government, although headed by a right-wing prime minister, will have the opportunity to try to realign the US-Israel relationship to a more bipartisan relationship in which the Israeli government’s alliance is bipartisan, and with the United States, not with the Republican Party. Having said that, we are seeing changes here in the United States that have manifested themselves in the last month even in the public discourse regarding Israel. And so, if I would say it’s an opportunity, it’s also going to be a challenge to rebuild a real bipartite consensus around support for Israel or in the US-Israel relationship, not least because, as I said earlier , there is going to be an Israeli government that is going to be virtually incapable of pursuing a coherent policy towards the Palestinians. And it’s going to be very frustrating for us.
I would say, as a former diplomat on the ground, that while the prospects for high-level diplomacy and major diplomatic breakthroughs are limited or nonexistent, opportunities for progress remain. There is still a lot of room for real, tangible and material changes on the ground that could be brought about through international mediation, and that could improve relations and real life realities between Israelis and Palestinians. We need to get out of this mindset that either we are negotiating a peace deal or we can do nothing and observe a continuing negative trajectory. I believe that there is room for active diplomacy, for active measures on the ground which will not answer key questions, but will nevertheless affect the lives of all parties concerned. I have been involved in such efforts in the past, and the contribution he made to improving the lives of Palestinians and Israelis was demonstrable. We tend to lose sight of the sighting from afar, but what you see up close is that a lot of the issues that really matter to people on the ground are these day to day issues of land use, travel. and access, and all kinds of things. who can help Israelis and Palestinians get on with their lives despite the fact that fundamental existential conflicts remain. There is a tremendous amount that can be done unless their existential conflict is resolved.
The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
The Daily Gazette
Sign up for daily emails to get the latest Harvard news.