Politics, Americas, Middle East

Netanyahu 'needs to have an enemy': Israeli journalist

Akiva Eldar says Israeli premier stokes fears to divert attention from corruption cases

Netanyahu 'needs to have an enemy': Israeli journalist Israeli journalist Akiva Eldar

By Safvan Allahverdi


Amid mounting allegations of criminal impropriety targeting Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli journalist Akiva Eldar said the Israeli premier was seeking to spread fear within society to divert attention.

“Netanyahu is like [U.S.] President Ronald Reagan for instance or President Donald Trump,” Eldar, Al-Monitor columnist and former U.S. bureau chief for the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz, told Anadolu Agency in an exclusive interview.

“He needs to have an enemy. If there is no enemy, he will invent it. Otherwise, he cannot survive in power," he said.

Prime Minister Netanyahu now has been facing growing calls for him to resign, shortly after police on Feb. 13 recommended that he should be indicted for alleged corruption -- echoing the fate of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert who resigned in 2009 after being indicted for corruption.

After a 14-month investigation into two cases of fraud allegations, Israeli police recommended that Netanyahu be indicted on charges of bribery and breach of trust.

Describing corruption as "the enemy of democracy and Jewish values", Eldar noted that the purpose of fomenting fear was to make Israelis feel that they need him for protection from Palestinians, Iran and Syria.

"So if it is not Palestinians or Iran, Bibi [Netanyahu's nickname] will have somebody else," said Eldar.

Lack of trust

Eldar also commented on Trump's decision on Jerusalem.

Last December, the U.S. recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital. The move drew a storm of condemnations and protests across the Arab and Muslim world.

Last week, Washington said it would move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on May 14 -- the day the state of Israel was established and officially recognized by Washington in 1948.

Eldar described the decision as "scratching the wound that is already bleeding".

"It is more psychological than something tangible," he added, saying the decision contributed to the lack of trust shared by both sides, worsening an already tense situation in the region.

"What we need now is to start [establishing] minimum trust to allow people from both sides to sit in the same room, let alone to reach an agreement. The Unites States has its official policy which defines Israel as its closest ally but at the same time the U.S. wants to play the role as a facilitator and broker."

2-state solution

Eldar said he was becoming increasingly pessimistic about a two-state solution with Trump in office and Netanyahu perseveringly arguing that the risks were currently too high, thus maintaining the status quo as a safer option.

He added that Israelis and Palestinians needed a trigger to show that the price of occupation was higher than the price of serious negotiations. Israel is not paying any price for the occupation of the West Bank, neither diplomatically nor economically, according to the journalist.

"Otherwise, it will not happen. Because the majority of the Israelis do not trust Palestinians and they are comfortable with the status quo. The economy of Israel is doing well and its people have wealth [...] so they do not feel the necessity to take risks," he said, blaming Netanyahu for convincing Israelis that maintaining the status quo was better than taking the risk of giving away tangible assets.

"I think this is the paradox that on one hand, if you look at the figures, Israel has the strongest army in the Middle East and one of the strongest armies in the world but at the same time Israel needs security. Israel is a victim. Israel is both strong and weak. It just depends which day you ask.

"Israelis play the victim card because fear is much stronger than hope," Eldar said. "If you cross the street at a red light, the fear that you will be hit by car is greater than the hope that it will not happen to you."

'Racial annexation'

Eldar also denounced the increasing number of Jewish settlements and what he perceived as a discrepancy in treatment depending on origins.

“This is what I call racial annexation. If you are Muslim, it is okay to take your land. But if you are Jewish, it will not happen to you," he added.

Eldar also said Israel was building settlements without a proper construction plan and spreading in many different areas to make it impossible to draw borders and to compromise on territory.

"So this is a strategy to make it harder, maybe even impossible to make territorial concessions and to go back to the '67 lines. It is very smart from their [position]. But for me, it is a tragedy," he noted.

The 1967 lines refer to the armistice borders drawn before the Six-Day War, when Israel captured the Gaza Strip from Egypt and the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, among other conquests.

Eldar said Palestinian people also suffered due to a lack of leadership and the conflict between the Palestinian authority, Hamas and Fatah.

"The Palestinians made their own mistakes. How many times they declared -- Hamas, PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) and Fatah -- that they will create a unity government, come to terms and they will work for some kind of political settlement together," he stated, adding that none of their pledges ever came true.

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