Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s former prime minister, is proving to be an irresponsible and reckless opposition leader who cares only for his own political interests.
On July 6, Netanyahu’s Likud Party and its ultra-Orthodox allies voted against a Knesset motion to renew the citizenship law, which they have consistently supported for the past 17 years. Enacted during the second Palestinian uprising, it bans Palestinians from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip married to Israeli citizens from automatically acquiring Israeli citizenship or permanent residency status.
Right-wing parties have always supported this law for security and demographic reasons.
More than 130,000 Palestinians from the occupied areas entered Israel between 1993 and 2003 after marrying Israeli Arabs, prompting concerns that some of them might engage in terrorism.
And there were fears that a steady influx of Palestinians into Israel would be demographically disadvantageous in terms of maintaining a Jewish majority. The Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, warned that unless the law was enforced some 200,000 Palestinians would gain entry into Israel per decade, a figure that would play havoc with the demographic balance of power.
Netanyahu was familiar with the math and understood the implications of refusing to extend the law by another year. Yet he and his allies deliberately voted against its extension so as to weaken and embarrass Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government, which is composed of eight radically different parties spanning the spectrum from right to left.
In a last-ditch attempt to renew the law, Bennett offered to extend it by six months rather than a year. He made this offer to three wavering partners in his coalition: Ra’am, the Arab Islamist party, the left-wing Meretz Party, and the centrist Labor Party, all of which regard the law as intrinsically anti-Arab and racist.
Clenching their teeth, the leaders of Meretz and Labor grudgingly accepted this compromise. But Amichai Chikli, a member of Bennett’s Yamina Party, voted against it, while two parliamentarians from Ra’am abstained.
Due to their defections, Bennett failed to persuade a majority of parliamentarians in the Knesset to vote for the extension. Fifty nine MKs voted to extend it, the same number as those who opposed it. Given the ensuing deadlock, the government could not extend the law, and it expired.
Bennett correctly accused Netanyahu of playing “childish games” to score political points, all at the expense of Israel’s security and its demographic well being. “There are things you don’t play around with,” he said by way of scolding Netanyahu. “The state must control who is allowed to enter and who is granted citizenship.”
In explaining the rationale for his position, Netanyahu said, “With all due respect for this law, the importance of toppling the government is greater. This isn’t just a law. It exposes the fault lines in this government, whose purpose is to promote an anti-Zionist agenda.”
This is pure, unadulterated, self-serving rubbish.
Bennett, a rightist whose pro-settlement party rejects a two-state solution, is definitely not promoting an “anti-Zionist agenda,” as Netanyahu speciously claims.
And lest it be forgotten, Netanyahu tried in vain to coopt Ra’am into his coalition before realizing he would be unable to cobble together a coalition and thereby prolong his premiership.
Netanyahu claims he will soon introduce a new citizenship law to permanently ban Palestinian naturalization through marriage. But that is not the reason why he declined to extend the existing law. Netanyahu’s goal is to topple the government and reclaim his old job.
A narcissist, he is convinced that no one else but him can competently govern the country. And as prime minister, he will better be able to defend himself in court on criminal charges of fraud, bribery and breach of trust.
As per usual, he was obviously thinking of himself and of his political survival. Which is why he cynically voted against a law he unreservedly supports ideologically.
Netanyahu should be ashamed of himself.