What a relief it is turn away from the maelstrom of American politics, and the endless speculation over whether Donald Trump asked for a quid pro quo in the hope of generating negative coverage about Joe Biden, to the placid backwater of Israeli politics, and the endless speculation over whether Benjamin Netanyahu asked for a quid pro quo in the hope of generating positive coverage about himself.
How refreshing it is to stop wondering whether the Ukraine-impeachment circus is merely an attempt to reverse the voters’ decision and spin the 2020 election by replacing democracy with judicial process, and to start wondering whether the Netanyahu-indictment circus is merely an attempt to reverse the voters’ decision and spin the 2020 election by replacing democracy with judicial theater.
There is, as Alfred Dreyfus is reported to have said after his return from Devil’s Island, no smoke without fire. But I find it hard to believe that smoke of corruption surrounding Donald Trump and Benyamin Netanyahu will catch flame. For one thing, they’re both more than a match for their dilemmas.
The American media have cried Wolf Blitzer for so long that the voters are switching off. In October 2015, more than 24m American watched Donald Trump in his first debate as presidential candidate. The first Democratic nomination debate, in June, drew 18.1m viewers. This week’s Democratic debate on MSNBC drew the smallest viewing figures yet. Only 6.5m mildly curious viewers bothered to check in to see if Joe Biden would keep his dental plate in his mouth or whether Bernie Sanders would have another heart attack. As for impeachment, Donald Trump is so alarmed that he told Fox & Friends on Friday morning, ‘I want a trial.’
Netanyahu doesn’t want a trial. With Israel heading into a third election in the space of a year, he’s unlikely to face one soon. Suzie Navot, an expert on Israeli constitutional law, points out that if Netanyahu requests procedural immunity as a sitting member of the Knesset, the Knesset’s House Committee will need to convene, and then the entire Knesset would have to vote. But there is no House Committee at present, because there is no functioning government. The committee that arranges the committees, the Arrangements Committee, is controlled by Netanyahu’s rivals in Blue & White. But, Navot says, the Arrangements Committee can only convene after a governing coalition and opposition have been formed in the Knesset. So if Netanyahu requests procedural immunity, which by the sound of it he’d be dumb not to, it’s likely that the Knesset won’t be able to vote on it before March or April. For a full account, see here.
That would mean Netanyahu extending his rule by a full year from last April, when the first of the trio of elections was held. Providing, of course, he comes out on top in February’s election. Which on current form, he probably will, because of the marginal gains he has achieved while Israel is in electoral limbo. The State Department’s shift on the legal status of Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) is significant less for the legal niceties — Israeli governments of both left and right have consistently ignored those, and with, they believe, good legal reason — than as a precursor to Netanyahu edging towards the annexation that he promised before the second election last September and can now offer again with further American support.
The recent exchange of fire with Islamic Jihad in Gaza is significant not only as part of Israel’s multi-front proxy war with Iran. The conveniently timed exchange, initiated by Israel, forced Netanyahu’s biggest rival, Benny Gantz of Blue & White, to endorse Netanyahu’s strategy. It also forced the Israeli Arab leaders of Blue & White’s biggest potential partner, the Joint List, to denounce Israel’s actions with a vehemence that shows they are on the side of the Gazans, and not their fellow Israelis.
These incremental advantages may accumulate into a decisive advantage for Netanyahu. He might not be able to unite his country, but he can certainly split the opposition. The same might be said for Donald Trump, who gains every time a major Democrat pushes further to the left on identity politics, free healthcare, free money and Russian-interference paranoia — a dividend multiplied by alacrity with which most of the media endorses the latest talking point on Democrat Twitter.
If the House votes to impeach Trump, the Senate Republicans are hardly likely to agree that they’ve been backing a criminal for the last three years. Impeachment will fizzle early in 2020, around the time Israelis return to the polls. On current form, both Trump and Netanyahu will be in stronger positions then than they are now. Their untruths go marching on.
Dominic Green is Life & Arts editor of Spectator USA.