Haaretz (Opinion)
December 19, 2012 - 1:00am


Assuming the opinion polls are accurate, Benjamin Netanyahu will stay on as prime minister after the election. It is obvious to anyone who has examined his two terms in the office that in contrast to their demonic image they have actually been characterized by a cautious approach. Netanyahu is the only prime minister of the past 20 years, from 1992 to November 2012, who did not launch an offensive military operation. The exception is Operation Pillar of Defense, perhaps the most surgical and restrained operation ever carried out by the Israel Defense Forces. Moreover, in nearly every instance of a public dispute over controversial positions - drafting the Haredim, last year's social protests, the deal to free Gilad Shalit, whether to extend the deadline for Iran's nuclear program and the like - Netanyahu was willing to retreat from his original position or at the very least to appoint a committee to reexamine the issue.

His willingness to rescue Channel 10 should therefore not come as a big surprise. Even if Netanyahu enjoys playing on the nerves of the channel's employees and believes it should be able to pay its own way, in accordance with his economic philosophy he is not looking for unnecessary confrontations. Netanyahu's supporters would say that as a fan of American democracy he listens to public opinion and is prepared to compromise. His detractors would argue that he is susceptible to pressure. In any case, in view of his cautiousness we must ask why, when it comes to building in the territories, Netanyahu is willing to challenge the West and set off a diplomatic hullabaloo when the issue could undoubtedly be handled differently.

Netanyahu's book "A Place Among the Nations," one of the most intriguing ever written by an Israeli politician, provides a perspective for understanding him. In it he argues that Zionism is a synonym for Judaism and for the Jewish people's aspiration to live in its own land. After more than 3,000 years of Jewish history it can generally be said that only the Jews who continued to yearn for Jerusalem remained Jewish, he writes, adding that without this organic link to Zion, Judaism loses its identity and eventually disappears. According to Netanyahu, then, the essence of Judiasm is to be found in the struggle for the Land of Israel.

It is interesting to note that both in his book and in his recent posts on Facebook Netanyahu speaks about 3,000 years of history. Most Zionist leaders speak of 2,000 years of yearning for Zion, in other words they view Zionism as the end of the Diaspora period and all its associations. One can also speak of 4,000 years, counting from the time of Abraham and the introduction of basic Biblical values. But Netanyahu refers to 3,000 years. In broad terms, then, he is referring to Jewish history only from the time of Jewish sovereignty.

This is not a unique position to take, but in contrast to the Revisionist leaders who preceded him this is the only reference in Netanyahu's writings to the significance of Zionism and Judaism. Zeev Jabotinsky strove to create a Jew who would maintain "dignity" ("hadar" ), and he stressed the Bible's social values. Menachem Begin reinforced the link between religious tradition and Zionism. Netanyahu, on the other hand, refers only rarely to any values apart from that of achieving sovereignty over the Land of Israel. This would also seem to be the reason why Netanyahu twice dared to defy the world. First, when he opened the tunnels at the Western Wall, and second, in his fight over building in the territories: acts that express the essence of Judaism, as he sees it.

As a statesman Netanyahu is willing to make tactical concessions, as evidenced in his agreeing to hold negotiations in accordance with the Oslo Accords and to freeze construction in the settlements - but only as a tactical maneuver. And so, while it is difficult to believe he cannot see the difference between Palestinian President Mamoud Abbas and the Hamas movement, from his perspective they are identical in the threat they pose to sovereignty over the Land of Israel, to the very core of the Zionist idea - in other words, to the core of Judaism.

In this aspect, despite criticizing him in his final years and despite the huge differences in their characters, Netanyahu - who loves and is knowledgeable about history - will be remembered as the successor to Yitzhak Shamir.


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