THE qualities, the force of personality, that makes a politician successful and sometimes great, are very often the qualities that eventually destroys them.
Churchill, rejected by the British electorate almost as soon as the guns felt silent after the Second World War, was embittered by what he considered ingratitude but he was a warlord without a war. Margaret Thatcher’s stridency, once such an undeniable agent for change, eventually became a kind of mania that made her seem unbalanced and unfit for office.
When Charles Haughey’s grand ambitions were eventually seen, more correctly, as base and insatiable greed even he fell. His acolyte Bertie Ahern, once the most popular Taoiseach ever because he seemed to be all things to all men, fell because he valued popularity more than he accepted the responsibility of making hard, unpopular but very necessary decisions. He was the Taoiseach who could not say “no”.
It is just possible that the triumphant, newly re-elected Benjamin Netanyahu, endorsed by the people of Israel to serve a fourth term as prime minister, has reached the apex in that particular trajectory and that the aggressive rhetoric he used before election day has already preordained his eventual failure — and a needless weakening of Israel.
If this involved no more than that career-ending isolation of Mr Netanyahu, it would be no more than a passing irrelevance, but Israel’s bellicose policies and Mr Netanyahu’s promise to continue the land thefts Israel calls settlements represents a far greater threat than any faced by Israel’s population of eight million to date. His hardened position may well have very destructive consequences right around the Middle East and even far beyond the region.
The very bullishness he expressed to get re-elected — especially an eve-of-poll U-turn on a commitment to recognise Palestinian statehood as part of a peace agreement — may have won him power but those policies will alienate him and Israel further. Allies already struggling to support Israel because of its savagery in Gaza will be tested again. Some may even decide that unless Mr Netanyahu is reined in, their support would be complicit in making a bad situation worse. That strain is already apparent in the US where, in a pointed intervention, President Obama voiced concern about the campaign rhetoric towards Israel’s Arab population. One of his spokesmen called it “divisive”. The Obama administration’s comments followed statements from the EU, the United Nations and the Palestinians, demanding a renewed commitment to the stalled peace process.
It is an unfortunate consequence of electing a hard liner that your enemies sometimes rejoice and, in that context, it is likely all of Israel’s opponents are delighted to see Mr Netanyahu returned to office. His insular focus, indifferent to any interests other than his own, will ensure any terrorist organisation ready to attack Israel will not have to worry about recruits. Tragically, it is possible to argue that by re-electing Mr Netanyahu, Israelis may have given in to fear and hatred and by so doing have shot themselves in the foot.
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