NOTE: I’ve just published an election post-mortem, Israeli elections: Rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic at Middle East Eye. Please give it a read and promote it on social media platforms.
It’s quite instructive how quickly Donald Trump’s loyalties can change given a shift in the political weather. Now that Bibi Netanyahu’s career is in the deepest jeopardy it’s ever faced, Trump has made some immediate adjustments. Gone are the professions of fulsome admiration. Instead, when asked whether he’d spoken to the Israeli leader, the answer was: “No.” Asked about his views of the election, Trump told reporters it was “very close.” Then, with a verbal ellipsis huge enough for a Mack truck to slip through, he added: “Our relationship is with Israel.” The implication being: I have no special loyalty to an individual. My relations are founded on a country-to-country basis.
This, of course, isn’t quite true. Trump has made a habit of establishing close, slavish relationships with prominent dictators like Kim Jong Un, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (“my favorite dictator”), and Mohammed bin Salman. If Benny Gantz becomes prime minister, Trump may have a correct relationship with him, but Gantz is precisely the sort of general the president has come to hate (cf. McMaster, Mattis, Kelly, et al.). Nor will Gantz offer the sycophantic, calculated praise and adulation which Netanyahu showered on Trump.
Trump, as others have noted, is transactional by nature. People are not individuals, but rather foils enabling him to achieve or frustrate his interests. He is not particularly ideological. He has no values to speak of. Remember the mantra of his reality TV show? “Ya fired!”
Trump even subsumes countries under this rubric. The president is only pro-Israel because it fits neatly with his larger nationalist political agenda. His brand of populism advances white nationalism, which in turn derogates non-white groups like Muslims and immigrants. Israel and its Jewish supporters no longer count among these hated minorities because that state has become a bulwark against the brown hordes of Islam threatening western civilization.
As Trump drops Bibi like a hot potato, I was reminded in reading this film review, of what happened to the ex-New York real estate tycoon’s relationship with the mob lawyer. When Cohn was disbarred and lost his elite clientele and income, most of his socialite friends abandoned him. Trump was no exception. Now Bibi’s getting the same cold shoulder treatment. The world is a harsh place for washed-up marionettes once Trump has no use for them.
The liberal Zionist chattering class has rushed to cheer Bibi’s apparent election loss. Gershom Gorenberg says it could heal Israel’s battered democracy:
There is an uncertain chance that voters have ended the Netanyahu era. Rather than descend further into illiberal democracy, Israel may have begun a slow recovery. Someday historians even may mark Sept. 17, 2019, as the turning point toward a two-state agreement. It will take time to know.
Roger Cohen similarly believes that ridding Israel of Bibi will miraculously end Israel’s 20-year nightmare:
If Israelis have indeed, at last, brought down the curtain on the Netanyahu show, they will have saved not only the last faint chance of a negotiated peace settlement with the Palestinians, but also their precious democracy itself. That would be quite something…
These are the views of people sleepwalking in a burning building. Just as a grieving father rages against God in the Bible over the tragic death of his son–“there is no judge and no justice;” so we must shake these deluded souls out of their reverie and shout: there is no two-state and there is no democracy. Both died long ago.
A change of leadership changes little. It will perhaps soften the edges. But there will be no marked changes in any sphere, whether the economy or relations with the Palestinians. Israelis, no matter whether they are extreme nationalists or centrists, like the status quo. They do not want change. They are not willing to take risks or compromise on any account.