It’s incredible, but his inner circle of “knitted skullcap” advisors, who saw Netanyahu as a strategic asset leading to a national-religious revolution, has turned on him. They are Shlomo (Momo) Filber, Natan Eshel, Ari Harow, Roni Alsheikh and Avichai Mandelblit. They were supposed to carry out Netanyahu’s dirty deals between government and wealth, while thwarting any attempt by law enforcement agencies and the press to undermine his status. With a daily newspaper funded by Sheldon Adelson, who has close ties to the White House, and with Trump’s appointment of two more skullcap wearers, Ambassador David Friedman and Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, it seemed that Netanyahu and his wife could continue to smoke cigars and sip pink champagne untroubled.
These “knitted skullcaps” constitute one side of the triangle. They are the ideological flak jacket, the regime’s storm troopers. And there is a second side which is no less important. They are the tycoons: Arnon Milchan, Noni Mozes and Shaul Elovitch. These are under suspicion as the bribe givers. Together with tycoons such as Yitzhak Tshuva, Shari Arison, Nochi Dankner, Lev Leviev and Eliezer Fishman, they own Israel’s economy.
As in any stable triangle, the base must be strong and wide. The base consists of Likud party members, public officials, heads of local government and large labor committees, and the “masses,” the last being putty in Bibi’s hands. Incitement against Palestinian Arabs, against African asylum seekers, and against any other weak minority adds fuel to the flames of hatred at the base, giving Netanyahu the upper hand in every confrontation.
While the base stands firm in its support for Bibi, at least for now, the tycoon side of the triangle has proved to be fragile. In the late 2000s when he was finance minister, Netanyahu privatized state assets – El Al, Bezeq communications, natural gas, Zim shipping, the Dead Sea Works, and cable and satellite services. He distributed these assets to a select handful of entrepreneurs who wanted to make a lot of money. The pretext was that the state did not know how to manage things while the tycoons ran their enterprises efficiently. The benefits for the wealthy would “trickle down,” everyone would benefit, and peace would descend like mist on the State of Israel. The result was not long in coming. In the absence of competition, the tycoons got rich, bought the media, and manipulated politicians, while corruption gnawed away at every part of the economy.
The system worked well until 2008, the year of the stock market crash, when Netanyahu’s theory collapsed. Social gaps deepened as the rich grew richer. It turns out that their riches were fraudulently acquired. Dankner, Fishman and Elovitch have spent time in the dock, former Finance Minister Avraham Hirschson and former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert served time for corruption, and now Netanyahu may be facing a similar fate. You can’t hide the connection between money and power anymore. The anticipated fall of Bibi, the omnipotent magician, points to the end of an era. He personifies neoliberal ideology and “piggish capitalism,” built on the concentration of wealth by huge monopolies.
Netanyahu’s departure is not only the end of an economic era, but the end of a political one. During the years of his rule, he did everything possible to kill any resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His cooperation with the ideological right of the “knitted skullcaps” has led to the chaos that threatens to engulf Israel. Gaza has long been a humanitarian basket case, which the Israeli government does not know whether to digest or spit out. There is no way to help Gaza without aiding Hamas. But any action to topple Hamas could result in total anarchy. In the West Bank, Israel incites against Abu Mazen as a peace rejectionist while continuing security and economic cooperation with him. The West Bank must not be annexed to Israel, but on the other hand, not one settlement can be evacuated. The fact that until now, the third intifada hasn’t broken out, and Gaza hasn’t collapsed, may be attributed to Netanyahu’s political acumen. Bibi is a magician!
However, Netanyahu’s time is running out. When you look to his right there’s a wall. When you turn to the left, you see that his heirs are no better than he. Yair Lapid, whose party Yesh Atid (“There is a future”) is just behind the Likud in the polls, ascended to his present position thanks to Noni Mozes, owner of the daily Yediot Aharonot. (Both are friends of Olmert). Lapid also shares a friend with Netanyahu – none other than the cigar- and champagne-supplying movie mogul Arnon Milchan. If and when Lapid takes Netanyahu’s chair, it is questionable whether anyone knows which way he’ll go. Behind him in the polls lags Labor Party leader Avi Gabai. He sports integrity, but he too began his career with Bezeq. Not in Elovitch’s Bezeq, but in the earlier Bezeq of Haim Saban, another tycoon and media mogul who mixes money with politics. As a counterweight to Adelson’s support of Trump, Saban is a prominent donor to the Clintons. Neither Lapid nor Gabai has voiced an economic or political plan that can free the Israeli cart from the mud.
The collapse of the neoliberal paradigm creates an opportunity to set a different economic course. The ideology of Netanyahu, Lapid and Gabai had its heyday in the 1980s, the twilight of the Second Industrial Revolution. Renewable energy, artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things, robotics, the autonomous car, and social networking are at the base of the Third Industrial Revolution. It creates a new prototype based on the decentralization of economic power, returning political power to the people, and restoring the essence of democracy to the concept of majority rule.
Renewable energy can put an end to the era of energy monopolies; blockchain technology is gnawing away at bank monopolies; the internet of things is killing the middlemen; the self-driving electric car solves transportation problems by eliminating the private car and reducing dependence on oil; AI replaces workers in the service sector, from the bank clerks to cashiers; robots supplant manual labor; and social networking does away with the printing press. The education system and medicine will change completely, the workplace will be different, and solutions will be needed for the millions whose jobs will be made redundant.
All these new challenges will alter our lives from the ground up, and they require serious answers. In Europe people have already begun thinking about solutions, but not in Israel. Those who live in denial console themselves with the illusion that change will take time. But those who look at reality see how money is being replaced by crypto currency, and how Teva, once an Israeli flagship company, has collapsed, its factories shutting down. Anyone who sees beyond the cigar smoke and the sparkle of pink champagne will understand that when Netanyahu goes, the economy he represents will collapse with him. Unfortunately, Israel is not prepared for this revolution: the educational system is exclusive, the Knesset is dealing with national laws, the transportation ministry is paving roads and encouraging private vehicles, and the IDF is geared up, more than ever, to fight yesterday’s war.
In the political sphere, Netanyahu will leave us with a kind of apartheid that is in lockstep cooperation with the Palestinian Authority. The “Jewish and democratic” state has ceased to exist, and the Palestinian state is stillborn. In spite of this, Meretz and Hadash continue to adhere to a two-state solution, either out of a Pavlovian reflex or because of a desire to maintain the “good old” Israel. Even in the diplomatic arena, Israel denies reality and is trying to turn back the wheels. A single economic unit has been created between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. It has one “import customs union” under the Paris Protocol and one Israeli sovereignty that perpetuates inequality in all spheres of life.
The new economic paradigm can change the political expediency of continued separation. It can lead to a single state for Israelis and Palestinians on a new economic basis. This will require enormous political and intellectual effort. It is not a question anymore of finding partners to make peace on the basis of separation – partners for that no longer exist. But there are Palestinians who want to establish a new democratic social order as part of the Middle East and the emerging new world, and this is the true challenge we are facing.
- Translated from the Hebrew by Robert Goldman