“Let’s stop for a moment to appreciate this remarkable day. Let us rise above any political divide. Let’s put all cynicism aside. Let us feel the pulse of history on this day, ”he said last Tuesday. “For a long time after the end of the pandemic, the peace we establish today will endure.”
The normalization accords were the last feathers in the cap of a leader who has seen a streak of diplomatic victories in recent times. From the outside, Israel projects the image of a small but powerful country that far exceeds its weight on the world stage, an innovative “start-up nation” whose thousands of technology companies attract billions of foreign investments each. year.
At home, however, it’s a different story. The second wave of coronavirus infections in Israel long ago eclipsed the first, forcing the country into a second general lockdown that has closed schools, restaurants, entertainment venues and more. And while the coronavirus may be the most pressing challenge Netanyahu faces right now, it is far from the only one. The 70-year-old leader is under attack from both left and right, not only for his handling of the public health crisis, but also for his mismanagement of the economy, his response to his criminal trials, etc.
“We have a dysfunctional government, good at organizing ceremonies in the White House, bad at running a country,” said opposition leader Yair Lapid. “This is the worst failure Netanyahu has ever known and we are living it with him… or because of him. “
Restaurant owners, frustrated with a closure that threatens their livelihoods, smashed plates on the floor in protest. Some are more defiant, saying they plan to keep their businesses open.
“Nobody takes care of us, we have to take care of ourselves,” restaurateur Yoni Salomon told Kann News. “We won’t let anyone take our most basic rights – it doesn’t make sense and I will handle the fine. “
It’s not just restaurateurs defying government lockdown orders. Israel police have imposed nearly seven thousand fines for violating restrictions during the Rosh Hashanah holiday, according to police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.
Exemplary leadership from the summit was also clearly lacking. Although Netanyahu has stressed the importance of wearing masks and social distancing, some of his ministers have been photographed without covering their faces during cabinet meetings, and two of Netanyahu’s aides have been accused of raping quarantine rules last week.
The lockdown restrictions themselves are a study in bureaucratic jargon, often tweaked and tweaked at the last second so as not to anger partners in Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox coalition, or any other group with their own interests and goals. that the prime minister decides he can’t afford. to offend.
The current Israeli government is the largest in the country’s 72-year history, a so-called unity government bringing together – at least in theory – the two main political parties: Netanyahu’s Likud and the Prime Minister’s Blue and White party alternate Benny Gantz. . The inflated political Frankenstein, with 34 ministers and 8 deputy ministers, was fabricated with pieces detached from existing ministries to create additional jobs for politicians to be filled, such as the post of Deputy Prime Minister and the Ministry of Education. Higher and Water Resources. .
And yet, despite the size of the government, it remains almost exclusively a one-man show. Netanyahu did not even inform his Foreign or Defense Minister – who happens to be Benny Gantz – of the deal with the UAE until it was publicly announced, saying he feared ‘they’re running away from the news.
This government, specially designed to manage the coronavirus crisis, was officially sworn in on May 17. On that day, Israel recorded just 11 new cases of Covid-19, according to data from the Ministry of Health. There were 44 patients on ventilators and 3,403 active cases across the country, out of a total of 16,617 cases.
At the time, critics joked that the government could put a minister next to every ventilator patient.
Four months later, Israel’s unity government has failed miserably in its self-declared primary mission. As of Wednesday morning, there were 54,322 active cases in Israel out of a total of 200,041 cases since the start of the pandemic.
The Ministry of Health recorded 6,861 new cases on Tuesday, including 171 patients on ventilators. Across the country’s besieged hospital system, 634 patients were in serious condition.
“Israelis are extremely pessimistic about the corona crisis and the perceived mismanagement of the economic and health aspects of the crisis,” said Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI). A former politician, Plesner said he had never seen anything like the problems in this current government.
A recent IDI survey showed that the Israelis overwhelmingly support the normalization agreement with the UAE, but this did not translate into a sense of confidence in the government or confidence in the future of the country. About two-thirds of Israelis believe the national mood is either moderately pessimistic or very pessimistic, according to the survey results conducted by the Midgam Institute and prepared by the Guttman Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research.
“Apparently it should have been a government of national unity pulling us out of the crisis, creating the necessary reforms to prepare us for the post-Corona era; instead, it is a government that is in total paralysis, ”Plesner said.
And yet Netanyahu displayed his fiery mark of confidence last Thursday when he tried to assure Israeli citizens that they were in good hands. “The main thing I’m telling you is that health and the economy are in our hands. This is the time of responsibility – personal responsibility and mutual guarantee. We will defeat the coronavirus but only together will we do it, ”Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu boasted that he made peace with two Arab countries in 29 days, from August 13 to September 11. During that same period, around 62,000,000 Israelis were diagnosed with Covid-19, while 446 citizens died from the disease. But when Netanyahu was asked last week who should bear the blame for the failure to contain the virus, he replied, “There are no failures, only achievements. ”
The comment marked a remarkably different tone from President Reuven Rivlin’s a few days later when the Israeli head of state issued a direct apology to the nation for the failure of the country’s leaders to lead.
“I know we haven’t put in enough leadership effort to deserve your attention. You trusted us and we let you down, ”Rivlin said. “You, citizens of Israel, deserve a safety net that the country offers you. Policymakers, government departments, policy implementers must work for you and only for you – to save lives, reduce infections, save the economy. I understand the feeling that none of these tasks have been carried out satisfactorily.
If Israel’s public health policy is criticized, its economic policy is even more sclerotic. The last national budget was passed in 2018, and Netanyahu and Gantz were unable to come to an agreement on a new budget last month, so they decided to simply postpone for a few months in the interests of maintaining their government afloat. The head of the budget division at the finance ministry left his post to join his counterpart in the public health division of the ministry of health, who had left his post a few months earlier. Both wrote fiery resignation letters criticizing the country’s leadership or lack of it.
And yet, due to the high position of the Prime Minister of Israel, none of these counts as the number one problem. Netanyahu’s biggest problem is the fact that he has been accused of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He continues to maintain his innocence, attacking the attorney general, investigators and the judiciary, accusing them of an attempted coup led by the left and the media.
His trial begins in earnest in January, when a panel of judges will begin hearing witnesses. It’s hard to imagine a White House ceremony large enough to distract from these criminal proceedings.