Over these past few weeks, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has probably been under the greatest pressure he has ever encountered. Barbaric acts of Arab terrorism and intensified incitement, problems with the Trump administration, growing tensions with American Jewry, constant pressure and criticism from ministers in his own government, and, above all, the campaign to indict him on a myriad of alleged acts of corruption, have taken their toll and destabilized him.
In hindsight, the installation of metal detectors on the Temple Mount following the bloody terrorist murders there was a major blunder. Under any normal circumstances, it would have been an absolutely legitimate reaction, but given the frenzied religious fanaticism endemic among Palestinians, Netanyahu should have anticipated that the detectors would be exploited by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the Islamists to incite hysteria.
He also should have realized that this would create major domestic problems for more moderate leaders in the region who face enormous pressure from their own citizens when they are roiled by hysterical accusations that Islamic holy sites are being defiled by the Jews.
Had Netanyahu remained firm and resisted the demand to remove the detectors, Israeli public opinion would have supported him. But he considered the broader picture, recognizing that refusing to remove them would risk a violent new intifada that would cost many more lives and would probably set back his emerging covert alliance with the more moderate Arab states. Any responsible Israeli leader weighing the issues would have been obliged to act in a similar manner.
The issue was compounded by the way Netanyahu handled the Jordanian crisis. There appears to be no doubt that the security guard at the Israeli embassy acted in self-defense. But Netanyahu’s parading him as a hero was a grossly inappropriate, given our delicate relationship with King Abdullah, who is under pressure from the powerful Palestinian and Muslim Brotherhood elements to sever diplomatic relations with Israel. And the government should have instituted a legal review of what happened even though it would have exonerated the guard. Besides, an apparently innocent bystander was accidentally killed, which probably merited at the least an apology and restitution.
To add to our discomfort, the international community reverted to its familiar posture, with the U.S. State Department issuing statements applying moral equivalence to both parties, which seemed like a throwback to the Obama era. President Trump, facing his own domestic problems, remained silent. This was certainly grounds for considerable disappointment, as one would have expected the administration to deal with reality and condemn the bogus Palestinian hysteria instead of understating it and indulging in appeasement.
To top it off, Netanyahu faced a barrage of demagogic criticisms of government policies, including from ministers in his coalition and even from within Likud.
Clearly, the Palestinians are emboldened and believe they have humiliated Israel and won a major battle. But we should not exaggerate the negative repercussions of what transpired, nor engage in masochism and allow these events to blur reality. Setting aside the status quo originating from Moshe Dayan’s major error in judgment when, in 1967, he handed control of the Temple Mount to the Wakf, Israel remains firmly in control of the situation even in the face of whatever rage and frustration the Palestinians may express.
But we must face reality. A substantial proportion of Palestinians and, alas, as was recently demonstrated, also a highly vociferous minority of Israeli Arabs, are vicious barbarians who would slaughter Jews at any opportunity. They behave like savages, as evidenced by the murder of the Druze Israeli policemen at the Temple Mount and the butchering of the Salomon family at their Shabbat table in Halamish.
The spontaneous street celebrations after those murders speak volumes. The killers were hailed by both the PA and Hamas as heroes and their families were financially rewarded. The murderer of the Salomon family will receive a massive pension despite his anticipated incarceration.
If one thing has been reaffirmed over the past month, it is that the Palestinian leaders and the bulk of their followers are unwilling to reach any peace agreement and are determined to fight on for their ultimate objective: the obliteration of any Jewish sovereignty in the region.
Besides, with the impending retirement of Abbas, there is every likelihood that chaos will prevail and Palestinian security forces could turn their weapons against Israel. Israel must be well prepared for this eventuality.
The police must also take immediate steps to enforce law and order in Arab-Israeli areas that have been ignored, enabling residents to act as a law unto themselves. Israel should take immediate action and indict any Israeli Arabs inciting violence even if the international community condemns us for restricting civil liberties.
If we adopt a tough but consistent approach, seeking wherever possible to avoid religious confrontations, it is likely that the more moderate Arab countries will continue distancing themselves from the Palestinians extremists – as they face their own challenges in which Israel is a covert ally.
Each country must be dealt with individually. Peace agreements with some of our neighbors have not necessarily brought stability. Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan launched a vile campaign of incitement against us and is competing with the Iranians to fund Palestinian extremists. Jordan’s King Abdullah is surrounded by a Muslim Brotherhood-dominated parliament that seeks to break off diplomatic relations with Israel and a government whose foreign minister praised terrorists as shahids.
We also need to speak out and criticize the Trump administration, in particular Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the State Department, for reverting to Obama-era rhetoric and failing to publicly defend an ally, especially under the recent circumstances.
Unless indicted over the corruption charges leveled against him, and despite his mishandling of recent crises, Netanyahu remains the only credible Israeli leader with the ability to make progress on the international level. The government must close ranks and display a united front – and when a policy has been formulated, all ministers should be bound by cabinet responsibility, as applies in most democratic countries, to support the policy or remain silent. Resignation should be mandatory for any minister publicly castigating his own government.
Of course we must make every effort to strengthen the IDF and continue building our alliance with United States and other nations with whom we have common interests.
Above all, we should constantly remind ourselves that today Israel is a superpower – militarily, economically, and technologically.