When the polls are down, Netanyahu turns to peace – Ynetnews

Posted By on August 18, 2020

Throughout his political career, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has often reversed his right-wing course, opting to present himself as a promoter of peace. This about-face has always followed a dip in polling numbers and appeared less motivated by ideology and more by expediency.

Before the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Netanyahu was an active participant in the right-wing campaign to delegitimize the commander-turned-politician who had signed the Oslo Accords.

He even infamously stood on a balcony overlooking Jerusalem's Zion Square as anti-Rabin demonstrators held aloft posters depicting the prime minister in Nazi uniform.

Benjamin Netanyahu attends a mock funeral for the 'death of Zionism' in the run-up to the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin

(Photo: Yedioth Ahronoth archive)

Netanyahu also marched in a mock funeral carrying a coffin emblazoned with the words "Rabin is killing Zionism."

But after Rabin's assassination by a Jewish right-wing extremist, polling predicted Netanyahu was about to massively lose the looming election to Shimon Peres, the new leader of the peace camp, and was on his way to political oblivion.

"It was time for change," his campaigners said as they came up with a new slogan. Soon billboards across the country bore the message "Netanyahu, making peace with security" - accompanied by a photo of a white dove flapping its wings.

ironically, Eyal Arad, who managed the Netanyahu campaign at the time, recalls that the poor bird was tethered to wire and was flapping its wings frantically as it tried to escape. But the wire was edited out of the photo and the campaign message disseminated.

Netanyahu announced he was committed to the peace accords signed by Rabin before his murder and the newborn man of peace won the vote.

Whether or not he intended to keep his pre-election promise, seven months into his first term as prime minister in 1996, Palestinian riots broke out over Israel's opening of the controversial Western Wall Tunnels, dug underneath the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem.

Palestinian rioters protesting the opening of the Western Wall Tunnels in the Old City of Jerusalem in 1996

(Photo: Yedioth Ahronoth)

In all, 17 Israeli soldiers and 100 Palestinians were killed in the ensuing violence, and Netanyahu's polling numbers dropped.

This, along with American pressure, led him to fulfill his commitments and carry out the second stage of the Oslo Accords handing the Palestinian Authority control over the West Bank city of Hebron.

In 1998, Netanyahu, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and U.S. President Bill Clinton signed the Wye River Memorandum to resume the implementation of the 1995 Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Once again polls showed the agreement had majority support among Israelis.

At that time, Israel's prime minister was elected by a direct vote and Netanyahu found himself having to placate his right-wing coalition partners and ensure his re-election in the race against the former IDF chief and new Labor leader Ehud Barak.

But the right-wing took to the streets over the peace deal and the beleaguered prime minister announced he will not be honoring the Wye Memorandum.

It was too late and after four members of his coalition refused to back him, the government fell and Barak was elected.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at a debate ahead of the 1999 prime ministerial elections

(Photo: Screen shot)

Netanyahu then completed his swing back to the right. During a visit to a bereaved family in the West Bank settlement of Ofra, who had lost two members in a terror attack, Netanyahu said he had not intended to see the Oslo Accords through.

"When I was asked before the elections if I would keep Israel's commitments to the accords, I said yes but only if there were reciprocity from the Palestinians and with fewer pullbacks of Israeli forces," he told the grieving family.

"I would have presented my own interpretation of the agreement so that there would be no withdrawal towards the pre-1967 Six-Day War borders."

U.S. President Barack Obama speaking in Cairo in 2009

(Photo: Screenshot)

When he returned to power in 2009, Barak Obama was in the White House. During his 2009 visit to Cairo, the American president spoke of the need to reach a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians based on a two-state solution.

Public opinion polls showed great support among Israelis for Obama's plan and so Netanyahu hastily made another 180-degree turn.

He gave a historic speech at Bar-Ilan University in which he announced, "We would be prepared in a future peace agreement to see the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state alongside Israel."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivering 2009 speech at Bar-Ilan University

(Photo: Michael Kramer)

In January 2020, U.S. President Donald Trump announced his Mideast peace plan to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It came weeks before a general election in Israel and as Netanyahu's standing in the polls showed a decline that would potentially rob him of a coalition willing to grant him immunity from prosecution for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust.

The crux of the U.S. deal was a green light given by the Trump administration for Israeli annexation of the parts of the West Bank.

"This is a historic day for the State of Israel and one of the most important days in my life," Netanyahu said from the White House, where he traveled to join the president for the announcement of the agreement.

"As always, I will not allow anything to stand in the way of my commitment to work for you the people, for the security and the future of the State of Israel," he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu watches as U.S. President Donald Trump unveils his Mideast peace plan at the White House, Jan. 28, 2020

(Photo: Getty Images)

But in his speech last week, another historic and important occasion, the prime minister announced he would be suspending the all-important annexation in favor of normalized relations with the UAE.

This came after polling numbers once again showed Netanyahu's support was in decline because of his management of the coronavirus pandemic, so a new dramatic U-turn had to be made.

Netanyahu also once again agreed to the notion of two states living side by side.

"This is a historic moment," he announced. "A breakthrough on the road to peace across the Middle East."

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When the polls are down, Netanyahu turns to peace - Ynetnews

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