Published in The Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom, November 23, 2018.
Netanyahu has managed to stave off elections for now. He should use the time to restore Israeli deterrence, build in strategic areas, improve civil defense readiness, expel hostile U.N. agencies, and make diplomatic gains.
Prime Minister Netanyahu has wrung another three to ten months’ time out of his coalition partners until new elections have to be held. The question is: What is Netanyahu’s government going to do with that extra time? How will the government justify its extension? What additional achievements will it be able to present to the Israeli public when asking for a renewed mandate in 2019?
Here are eight policy initiatives for Netanyahu to consider.
- Restore Israeli deterrence.
Whether on the southern border with Gaza versus Hamas or across the northern borders versus Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, Netanyahu’s government must act to restore Israeli deterrence. This means zero tolerance for border rushes, booby traps on the fence, missile fire, incendiary kites and the like. It means targeting Hamas leaders if they fail to cease fire and striking deep inside Syria the minute IRGC bases are identified.
- Build, baby, build.
It’s time to buttress Israel’s hold on the Jerusalem envelope and the Jaffa-to-Jericho arc of settlement, through significant home construction.
As David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Rabin understood well, and Binyamin Netanyahu does too, Jerusalem is the key to the Jewish People’s claim in its historic homeland. “Greater Jerusalem” also straddles the only east-west axis across the State of Israel with a Jewish population majority.
Most urgently, this means massive building in the northern Jerusalem neighborhood of Atarot and in the southern area known as Givat Hamatos, and especially in the E-1 corridor between Jerusalem and Maale Adumim. Israel should be building 50,000 apartments in these strategic sectors. But all plans for such building were frozen throughout the Obama administration years, and ever since.
Netanyahu should swiftly reach understandings with the Trump administration whereby Israel would have diplomatic backing for a real start on building in these critical areas.
- Raze Khan al-Ahmar
The illegal Bedouin encampment was erected in E-1 to deliberately challenge Israeli control of the Jerusalem envelope; which is exactly why it must be dismantled. Even the less-than-right-wing Israeli Supreme Court has okayed the plan to move the Bedouin elsewhere, so no European Union protests or International Criminal Court threats should dissuade the government from acting forthwith.
- Settle the Golan.
Since it is clear Israel will hold the Golan Heights in perpetuity – there is no unified Syrian state with any moral or political claim on the strategic plateau – the government should adopt an aggressive investment plan for the Golan. This should double or triple the number of Israelis living there, as well as incentivize businesses to locate in the Golan.
- Expand Civil Defense Preparedness.
A big war with the Iranians entrenching themselves in Syria is coming, and the IDF will sooner or later have to act to degrade Hamas and Hezbollah military capabilities too. This means that many enemy missiles will fall upon Israel’s home front, no matter how many Iron Dome and David’s Sling batteries the IDF can deploy.
The public must therefore be prepared to protect itself in fortified shelters, and Israel’s critical institutions (from hospitals to power stations) must be similarly well-protected.
Yet anybody reading recent IDF and State Comptroller reports knows that the country is far from ready for this. The Netanyahu government should plan and announce a multi-billion-shekel plan for civil defense preparedness, with rapid expenditure on bomb shelter construction in poorer neighborhoods of the south and north.
- Expel the UN from Jerusalem and TIPH from Hebron.
Hostile UN agencies sit on prime Jerusalem real estate on Ammunition Hill and in Armon HaNetziv in Jerusalem – including the very-problematic United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). It’s time to give these agencies the boot, and to end UNRWA educational programs in eastern Jerusalem schools too. (The enormous campus occupied by the UN high up on the “Hill of Evil Counsel” in Armon HaNetziv would make for magnificent embassy properties for several pro-Israel Western countries).
The so-called Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) should be expelled too. These supposedly neutral observers from Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Italy, and Turkey have become virulently one-sided (pro-Palestinian) actors; permanent provocateurs, not temporary peace-keepers. Get rid of them.
- Pass the override law.
Although this may be impossible in the current 61-seat coalition situation, the government should nevertheless try to pass the Supreme Court override bill being advanced by Justice Minister Shaked. This is meant to redress the cockeyed (im)balance of power that has developed between the judiciary and legislative branches of government.
Supreme Court justices should not have the final say in matters of value-judgement, and certainly not when the Knesset repeatedly and overwhelmingly votes to advance national diplomatic and defense policy – like migrant expulsion laws or Haredi draft rules – despite the court’s displeasure.
- Obtain world recognition of Jerusalem and Israel.
It would be great to see several counties follow the US lead and move their embassies to Jerusalem; perhaps Australia, Brazil, Canada and Romania, in addition to Guatemala. And it would be important for one of the Gulf states to go beyond Oman and Abu Dhabi, and welcome a quasi-permanent Israeli economic or diplomatic delegation. If Netanyahu can pull this off soon, he’ll have strong evidence to back-up his claim that “Israel’s diplomatic relations have never been better.”