Has Israel’s king, Benjamin Netanyahu, been dethroned?

The prime minister has a lot of problems to deal with right now: vaccines, Iran, Jordan, the coalition – and of course, his corruption trial.

Is the man who Israel once crowned king being painfully dethroned?

Benjamin Netanyahu is Israel’s longest-reigning premier. Few have risen to his diplomatic heights – and none have experienced such a dizzying possible descent as he has, in which the symbols of some of his significant failures became evident within a four-day period.

These are the five nails that could seal his coffin:

Israel may no longer be the vaccination nation

After a shipment of some 700,000 Pfizer vaccines failed to arrive at Ben-Gurion Airport on Sunday, it became clear that the “vaccination nation” was in a scuffle with its supplier.

The Jerusalem Post confirmed that Israel had failed to transfer payment for some 2.5 million coronavirus vaccine doses that Pfizer had supplied to the country, and the pharmaceutical giant was outraged over Israel’s failure to sign contracts to procure additional vaccines despite the obvious success of the first batch.

The reason for the delay in moving forward with the purchase is a fight between Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz over the permanent appointment of a justice minister. But health officials say such a delay could have long-term implications on the health of the country.

Pfizer recently announced it believes it will be safe to inoculate adolescents between the ages of 12 and 15, something health experts say could help ensure the country’s “herd immunity” and keep infection rates down indefinitely. But Israel does not have enough vaccines to complete such a campaign – assuming parents step up and send their kids to get the jab.

Moreover, despite good news from Pfizer that the vaccines seem effective even six months after inoculation, there is still no indication how long the vaccines will really last or if some imported mutation could undo Israel’s efforts without a booster shot

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the arrival of the first batch of Pfizer coronavirus vaccines in Israel  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the arrival of the first batch of Pfizer coronavirus vaccines in Israel
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Meanwhile, neither Netanyahu nor Health Minister Yuli Edelstein have managed to convince the cabinet to convene.

Netanyahu’s success in the polls was due to Israelis’ short-term memories. The public, according to surveys, did not vote with COVID-19 in mind – except for those who chose Netanyahu because they credited him with bringing the vaccines to Israel.

The prime minister has said he is “obsessed with vaccines” and used his close relationship with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla to persuade much of the country that without him, Israel would still be under lockdown. But with this recent crisis, the prime minister has shown he was not as obsessed about paying for them.

Pfizer officials even called Israel a “banana republic,” Army Radio reported, highlighting everything that was wrong about Netanyahu’s handling of the pandemic.

The prime minister has politicized the people’s health, and unless the situation is righted, Israel could lose its vaulted place as a global vaccination leader and become a nation where people can no longer receive life-saving inoculations. 

US in talks to revive Iran deal

US and Iranian officials are both taking part in a gathering that kicked off on Tuesday aimed at drawing up at least the first stages of an agreement that would allow the countries to return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the Iran deal.

US President Joe Biden has indicated that rejoining the agreement is a top priority for his administration. The move would undo a decision to withdraw from the deal that was made in 2018 by president Donald Trump at the urging of Netanyahu.

Israel’s prime minister took credit for Trump’s decision to quit the Iran deal. In a video recorded in July 2018, Netanyahu said: “We convinced the US president [to exit the deal], and I had to stand up against the whole world and come out against this agreement.”

In a dramatic presentation several months before, Netanyahu unveiled documents captured by the Mossad that he said proved “Iran lied” about its nuclear program and was on the verge of a nuclear weapon.

Several countries’ intelligence agencies are examining how close Iran is to having a bomb, and each one has come up with a different answer. But there are those who believe Iran could have a deliverable nuclear weapon in as little as six months; previously, the shortest possible time was a year.

Netanyahu’s hard-line stance against the Iranian rogue regime has been a hallmark of his premiership.In 2012, he delivered a speech at the United Nations in which he literally drew a red line just below a label reading “final stage” to a bomb and insinuated that the Jewish state could consider a military strike on Tehran’s nuclear infrastructure if it came too close to such a line.

A few years later, on the cusp of the signing of the agreement, the prime minister flew to Washington – then, too, only two months before an Israeli election – and defied protocol by delivering a speech to Congress in which he told officials the deal that then-president Barack Obama was pursuing was “a bad deal, a very bad deal,” and would not take away Iran’s ability to ultimately obtain nuclear weapons.

Now, as Biden plays it cool with Netanyahu, his top administration officials are rubbing shoulders with world leaders from China, the European Union, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom in an effort to cozy up to Iran once again.

Jordan monarchy in crisis

Reports of a possible coup with Israel’s most significant regional ally, without whom Iran would be at Israel’s longest and potentially most vulnerable border, highlight Netanyahu’s failure to help shore up the Hashemite monarchy.

Netanyahu has cavalierly allowed issues that leave it vulnerable to popular outrage to take center stage, including the Temple Mount, known in Arabic as Haram al-Sharif, to which Jordan has a special custodial relationship.

The Temple Mount has long been a point of tension between the neighboring countries. But in the past several years, the situation has escalated as relations between Netanyahu and King Abdullah of Jordan have deteriorated.

The two leaders have not met in person for more than three years. During the window leading up to the last election, before the Abraham Accords were signed, the king refused to take the prime minister’s call because of Netanyahu’s public push for annexation.

A series of scuffles have occurred in the last few months alone, including Jordan’s Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah having to abruptly cancel a visit to Jerusalem to pray on the mount over a disagreement about the size of his security detail. The next day, Jordan denied Netanyahu’s request to fly over the country on a planned trip to the United Arab Emirates.

But these were not the first such incidents.

In 2017, the countries clashed over Israel’s push to install metal detectors on the Temple Mount. In 2019, despite Jordan’s demand, Israel failed to try an Israeli security guard who shot two Jordanians – including a 17-year-old delivery boy – in a scuffle outside an apartment that belonged to the Israeli Embassy in Amman. Instead, Israel paid some $5 million in compensation to the Jordanian victims, and Netanyahu gave the guard a hero’s welcome on his return to the country.

By 2019, the king described relations between Israel and Jordan as being “at an all-time low” and recalled his ambassador. Analysts have expressed similar sentiments, noting specifically that the Jordanian leadership is unhappy with Netanyahu, that he and the king lack trust and that the prime minister has damaged relations for “short-term political spin.”

Netanyahu’s corruption trial in full swing

Regardless of the outcome of the cases against Netanyahu, the public will forever have in its mind the picture of its leader in a courtroom corner.The prime minister is being tried for illegally influencing government communications policy in exchange for positive media coverage and for trying to reduce Israel Hayom’s competitiveness in exchange for more positive coverage from its competitor Yediot Aharonot, among other things.

Netanyahu, since his indictment in 2020, has done everything he can to avoid his trial, including dragging the country into two elections. Some argued during the coronavirus pandemic that he even pushed to close the courts during lockdowns in an effort to delay his trial – and it worked.

The prime minister sat stoic and emotionless in the courtroom on Monday; he has denied the charges and said he is being framed.The case against the prime minister could take years to conclude. For him, the outcome is of foremost importance. But for the general public, the damage was already done on the day he was indicted and failed to step down.

Netanyahu may not be able to form a coalition

Even though President Reuven Rivlin gave Netanyahu the mandate, he did so with reluctance, knowing that it will be nearly impossible for him to form a stable government and that Israel might have to go to an unprecedented fifth election in the space of less than three years.

“Believe [me], no candidate has a realistic chance of forming a government that will have the confidence of the Knesset,” Rivlin said. “In fact, if the law would allow me to do so, I would give the decision back to the representatives of the people, to the Knesset.

”He noted the “intense political and public disagreement” over both the recent election and giving the mandate to a candidate facing criminal charges, adding that “given the state of affairs,” he would recommend the prime minister.

One cannot forgo the irony of Rivlin hearing from politicians of 13 parties as to why they should trust or not trust Netanyahu to form a government on the same day the prime minister was being tried for breach of trust.

In the end, Netanyahu fell short, with only 52 of the 61 seats needed to form a coalition, as the president alluded to. As such, he might have won the popular vote, but his ability to govern Israel has never been more seriously in doubt.

By : MAAYAN JAFFE-HOFFMAN – THE JERUSALEM POST

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