|Illustration by DonkeyHotey.|
The stabbing deaths of two Israelis Monday — a soldier in Tel Aviv and a settler in the West Bank Gush Etzion bloc — are but the latest incidents in a growing wave of attacks by Palestinians that don’t threaten the stability of the Israeli state but pose a potentially mortal threat to the narrative of its leader.
Benjamin Netanyahu is now the longest serving prime minister since the country’s founding father, David Ben-Gurion, having overcome the notorious volatility of Israel’s parliamentary political system by keeping the country relatively safe and prosperous. Netanyahu has largely avoided presenting grand visions of Israel’s future; instead, he has made the stability of the status quo his political calling card, and that has persuaded Israelis to elect him three times.
To an international community that asks when Israel is going to end its occupation of the territories captured in the war of 1967 and accept the establishment there of a Palestinian state, Netanyahu dismisses the question as misplaced, because “in the Middle East, Israel has always been an island of stability and democracy in a sea of instability,” as he put it in 2013. In a region torn by mounting violence and turmoil, he argues, Israel cannot be expected to risk bringing extremism to its doorstep by allowing Palestinian independence.
Since last summer, however, events have conspired to disrupt the tranquillity upon which Netanyahu has based his political appeal. The summer’s violence in Gaza reached deep into Israel, even briefly closing Ben Gurion International Airport to the outside world. And violence has continued in the West Bank, in East Jerusalem and now within Israel’s 1967 borders despite the precarious truce that ended the Gaza fighting two months ago. Scarcely a day passes now without Israel’s news cycle being dominated by hostilities between Israelis and Palestinians.
“More than anything, Netanyahu’s current extremism tells of coming elections,” wrote Haaretz diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid in the paper’s Hebrew-language edition on Tuesday. Netanyahu's third government is by far the weakest he has led: He routinely faces blistering public criticism from senior Cabinet ministers and has great difficulty passing legislation. Environment Minister Amir Peretz from Tzipi Livni’s Tnua’h party resigned from the government on Sunday, stating in a TV interview that “Netanyahu is not the solution. He is the problem.” Peretz is a veteran politician known for reading the shifting political tides, and his departure may be as much about the next elections as it is about the current coalition.