Can This Man Save Israel?

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Can This Man Save Israel?

How the resurgence of Likud may actually hasten the division of Jerusalem.

My father stated on television in January 2006 that Benjamin Netanyahu might return to power in Israel. Two months later, his Likud party got trounced in parliamentary elections. Its 38 seats in the 120-seat parliament got slashed to just 12.

Today, however, Likud has revived—and Netanyahu, judging by recent public opinion polls, is first in line to succeed Ehud Olmert as Israel’s next prime minister.

How close are we to a rightward shift in Israeli politics? And should that happen, how will it impact the status of Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the Jewish state?

No political party in Israel has ever obtained a simple majority of seats in the Knesset (61). The party with the most seats, however, forms a majority rule by coalescing with enough parties to maintain control. Olmert’s Kadima-led government consists of a five-party coalition—Kadima (29 seats), Labor (19), Shas (12), Yisrael Beiteinu (11) and Gil Pensioners (7)—totaling 78 seats. Israel’s next parliamentary election isn’t scheduled until March 2010. But if Kadima’s coalition breaks up before then, it would force early elections.

Jerusalem’s status as Israel’s capital city is one critical issue now testing the strength of Olmert’s government. Olmert’s plan for re-dividing Jerusalem has sharply divided members of the Knesset, as highlighted by Netanyahu’s parliamentary speech on October 8. “According to the government’s plan,” he said, “Israel will withdraw to the 1967 lines, hand over half of Jerusalem to the Palestinians and relinquish Israeli control over the holy sites in the city. Let there be no confusion—this is the plan. All attempts to disguise it are futile.”

Later, Netanyahu asked, “How many times is it possible to repeat the same blunder, to proceed with the same blindness? … The government concedes everything in advance. It erodes Israel’s positions in any future negotiation—and gets nothing in return. This is not how you negotiate! This is not how you make peace! But the government contends that by offering these far-reaching concessions, it is strengthening the moderates and weakening the extremists. The opposite is true.”

How true that is! And yet, succumbing to pressure from the U.S. State Department and from left-wingers in the Labor Party, Olmert forges ahead with his suicidal mission of helping build a terrorist state bordering Israel on every side! But there is a political price: If he pushes too hard with his appeasement proposals, right-leaning members of his coalition might jump ship.

This is exactly what Netanyahu is angling for. “I ask you, my friends in Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu,” Netanyahu said in his speech, “What are you doing in this government? Do you really agree with a policy that would have Hamas rule over neighborhoods in Jerusalem? … You are not preventing the danger by sitting in the government. On the contrary, you are giving legitimacy to a dangerous initiative and allowing it to happen.”

Between them, conservatives in Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu fill 23 seats in Olmert’s coalition. If they left, the coalition would suddenly be in the minority.

“If you are tired, step aside,” Netanyahu said—a not-so-subtle reference to Olmert’s infamous “we are tired of fighting, we are tired of being courageous” comment shortly before becoming prime minister. “If the government has stopped believing in the justice of our cause,” Netanyahu concluded, “if it is weary of standing up to our enemies—it must do one thing: Go to the people and set a date for elections.”

Besides the status of Jerusalem, Olmert is feeling heat on other fronts. He is currently undergoing three criminal investigations, which is unprecedented in Israel’s history as a state. Added to that, when the Winograd Commission releases its final report on Olmert’s mishandling of last summer’s war in Lebanon (which the commission has promised by year’s end), some insiders have speculated that Labor Party Chairman Ehud Barak may remove his party from the coalition in an attempt to topple the government.

So Netanyahu may get his wish for new elections sometime in 2008. And if he does, he may well become Israel’s next prime minister.

If that happens, how would that impact the status of Jerusalem?

He would undoubtedly return to power on the same platform he outlined in his October 8 speech: “Keep Jerusalem United.” And while his will to fight against terrorism might be far stronger than Olmert’s, by that point, it will be too little too late.

Too much damage has been done.

“Perhaps Israel’s greatest diplomatic failure since 2000,” Caroline Glick wrote in a Jerusalem Post column, “has been its failure to disavow Barak’s offers and remove them from the negotiating table. Once Arafat refused Barak’s far-reaching concessions and chose instead to launch a war against the Jewish state, Israel had numerous opportunities to make clear these concessions were no longer on offer. Disavowing them is crucial not simply because they are diplomatically unwise. They are strategically suicidal” (October 4).

A seven-year record of surrendering without a fight is not exactly a position of strength for the next prime minister to operate from—no matter how conservative he might be. And even if he does resolve to fight, the Israeli people have already been conditioned to give up half of their capital.

It wasn’t like that in January 2001, when Israel’s populace first learned about the stunning concessions Barak had offered Arafat. Jerusalem’s mayor at the time, Ehud Olmert of all people, organized a “One Jerusalem” demonstration in which 400,000 Israelis from all over the country assembled at the Jaffa Gate entrance to the Old City to declare their support for a united city under Jewish sovereign rule. It was Israel’s largest protest in its history.

That spontaneous reaction in support of one Jerusalem has long since evaporated; the weak will of Israel’s leadership these past seven years has spread like cancer all over Israel.

From the Jewish perspective, as I wrote in the July Trumpet, the real significance of the failed negotiations between Barak and Arafat in 2000 is not that Arafat refused to accept half of Jerusalem—it’s that an Israeli prime minister actually made the offer. Before July of 2000, that had never happened. But with Jerusalem placed on the table as a bargaining chip, and left there ever since, Israelis have had several years to warm up to the idea. A poll by Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies in May found that 58 percent of Israelis supported the idea of giving up parts of Arab East Jerusalem if it would solidify a peace deal with the Palestinians.

Today, it would be difficult imagining 40,000 Jews, let alone 400,000, rallying to protest the division of their capital.

On the other hand, imagine the Arab reaction to an Israeli politician arriving seven or eight years after Camp David promising to disavow everything Barak and Olmert conceded.

Mahmoud Abbas would be the real loser in that scenario, looking at it politically. And Hamas, which has been calling for negotiations to cease between the Palestinian Authority and Israel (not to mention the destruction of Israel as a state), would be vindicated throughout the Arab world. Haven’t we said this all along, Hamas would gloat. Negotiations with Israel are futile; it has never been serious about achieving peace.

Back for a moment to my father’s Jan. 6, 2006, Key of David program. Here was his Bible-based forecast: He said Israel is “going to be taken by force, and you need to realize that. Now, that might also indicate that the Likud, or the conservative party, will get in power.” That statement was based on a prophecy in Zechariah 14:1-2 that indicates a Hamas-dominated Palestinian insurgence, backed by Iran, will take half of Jerusalem byforce.

In March 2006, my father followed up that program with this comment in the Trumpet: “[B]ased on the conflict Zechariah describes between the Palestinians and the Israeli government … Benjamin Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party could bounce back and win the Israeli elections ….

That didn’t happen in March 2006. But look at the situation today. An October poll revealed that if elections were held right now, Likud would win 28 seats and Kadima’s majority would plunge from 29 to 13.

However the details play out, prophecy is sure. The violent division of Jerusalem as prophesied by Zechariah doesn’t depend on a conservative government being elected in Israel. But if Benjamin Netanyahu does return to power, as my father suggested in early 2006, you could definitely see how the Zechariah 14 crisis would come to a head much more quickly.