Life After Netanyahu
The political future of Israel and the occupation
There are only a few 21st-century leaders so far that you can confidently declare to be truly era-defining for their countries. Benjamin Netanyahu is one of them. The longest-serving Prime Minister in the country’s history. Active in politics for more than four decades straight. You cannot understand the Israel of today without knowing Netanyahu, the man. Israeli security policies are Netanyahu’s policies. Its occupation policies are Netanyahu’s policies. Its economic policy is his policy. The country’s political divides, laid bare in five elections over the span of four years, stemmed largely from how voters felt about him. No matter which side you were on, he was always larger than life: an indispensable statesman or a world-class thief. His position was so secure, his power so ensconced, his party and its backers so radical, that he was even on path to reshape his country’s very institutions in his own image at the apex of his career.
And then, over the course of one night, it all imploded.
Over the past week, you’ve heard some commentators, whether they be cynical, contrarian, or just downright ignorant, try to downplay what has happened. Some of them predicted that the attacks would benefit Netanyahu, assuming that he will be the beneficiary of a rally-around-the-flag effect. Others, relying on past precedent in Israeli politics, condescendingly argue that it’s naive to expect anything will happen to Netanyahu as a result of the attacks; that he’s been in dire situations before and has only come out stronger each time. Both of these perspectives are wrong. The worst attack in your country’s history happening on your watch, in the context of you spending decades promising that you and only you could bring security, isn’t going to give you a boost. It’s not even going to be a crisis you can manage. It ends your career. There’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it.
How do I know this? Well, for one, it was common sense after seeing every Israeli commentator instantly compare the attacks to the 1973 War, the surprise attack that famously realigned Israeli politics away from the then-dominant governing coalition. That’s not the kind of comparison any commentator makes casually, either politically or militarily. If that obvious connection isn’t enough, we also have polls, and they show exactly what you’d expect. 86% of Jewish Israelis see the attacks as a failure of the current government’s leadership. 94% think that the government holds responsibility for them in some form, and over 75% think it holds most of the responsibility. A majority of respondents want Netanyahu, along with his defense minister, to resign at the end of the war, even though the next election isn’t scheduled until nearly 2027.
This isn’t a gaffe or even a scandal. It is a historic political catastrophe, and it will have historic political consequences. And nowhere will this be felt more than the occupation. After years of sitting on the political backburner—in recent elections, only a small minority of Israelis said that national security was their top concern—the question of Palestinian repression has come roaring back into the forefront of the country’s politics. New leaders will come. New promises will be made. Some policies will be changed, and far more won’t be. If last week’s article covered what caused the conflict, this week’s will cover, in detail, the possible results of it, from who stands to take power, what they plan to do with it, and—most importantly of all—how it will affect the Palestinian people as they grind towards their fifth straight decade of an illegal occupation.
While preparing for this article, the first thing I did was to resign myself to waiting for the first post-attack polls to come out before providing commentary. We now have those polls, and they show some quite shocking numbers, but to properly understand them, you first need to understand what has been happening in Israeli politics over the previous months and years.
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