Netanyahu is already deep in campaign mode, and Pompeo is his prop
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Netanyahu is already deep in campaign mode, and Pompeo is his prop

The PM has had his eyes on a repeat poll since September. Now that a third election is nearing, he is heading to Portugal to show off his diplomatic bona fides

Shalom Yerushalmi

Shalom Yerushalmi is the political analyst for Zman Israel, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew current affairs website

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, December 1, 2019. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, December 1, 2019. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

In the early morning of September 18, hours after polls had closed in our last elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived at the Expo Tel Aviv convention hall. It was almost 3 a.m. and Netanyahu looked pale and irritated after learning the results.

Before stepping out to speak on stage to the Likud faithful, and unleash his anger at the left and the Arabs, he spoke briefly with his associates. “We had a mishap. We will fix it next time,” he promised.

Already then, Netanyahu was gunning for another round at the polls. As always, he was several steps ahead of all of his rivals. What he saw back then, others have not quite understood even today.

Netanyahu wanted and still wants fresh elections. He needs the political timetable to continuously get in the way of the timetable of the legal cases against him. He must get himself some leeway, preserve his status as prime minister, and push for immunity from prosecution in the three corruption cases for which he has now been charged at any cost.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz at a memorial ceremony marking 24 years since the assassination of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, in the Knesset on November 10, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Thus while the whole country and, especially, members of the Blue and White party, are talking about a unity government, Netanyahu is already deep in election campaign mode. He departed Wednesday for Lisbon, Portugal, not only to speak with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, but also to use him as a prop.

Netanyahu is working to show himself as the peerless statesman who is protecting Israel’s interests regarding Iran, promoting an unprecedented mutual defense pact with the United States, and preparing to extend sovereignty over the Jordan Valley. While Netanyahu is in Lisbon with Pompeo, his rival, Benny Gantz, is touring the desolate Ramat Negev region. It’s quite the contrast.

Benny Gantz speaking in the Ramat Negev Regional Council on December 4, 2019. (Elad Malka)

Netanyahu is second to none in making his interests dovetail with the special interests of various parties. He has spoken with this reporter many times about the genius of Theodor Herzl, who knew how to talk to European leaders who wanted to get rid of their Jews, and proposed that they send them to the Land of Israel.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, right, listens to US President Donald Trump, left, speak during a Cabinet meeting in the White House, October 21, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Nowadays, Netanyahu is making himself indispensable to the Republicans, who rely on Israel-loving evangelicals for support. As a very senior diplomatic official told me not long ago: “US President Donald Trump will give everything for Netanyahu to win.”

Pompeo announced last month that West Bank settlements are “not inconsistent with international law.” It will be interesting to hear what more Pompeo will have to offer Netanyahu when they meet this time.

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