PM get­away

Ne­tanyahu got a break from the po­lice to do what he loves

The Jerusalem Post - - FRONT PAGE - • By HERB KEINON

BO­GOTA – Ev­ery­one likes to get away, to clear the head, break the rou­tine: the gar­dener, the shop­keeper, the doc­tor and the lawyer.

Ev­ery­one, it seems, but Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu.

Say what you will about Ne­tanyahu and his poli­cies, love or loathe him, the man is a worka­holic, al­most never tak­ing a va­ca­tion. And when he does take a cou­ple per­func­tory days off in Au­gust, he tours some an­tiq­ui­ties some­where in Is­rael, which he then ref­er­ences in posts on so­cial me­dia to stress the con­nec­tion be­tween the Jewish peo­ple and the Land of Is­rael.

It is said of Woodrow Wil­son, Amer­ica’s pres­i­dent dur­ing World War I, that he played golf al­most ev­ery day in of­fice. Cur­rent US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump re­cently took a multi-week va­ca­tion and also hits the links more than the aver­age guy. But Ne­tanyahu? He rarely takes time off.

Which doesn’t mean the prime min­is­ter doesn’t get away.

Ne­tanyahu is cur­rently on a 10-day trip to Ar­gentina, Colom­bia, Mex­ico and the US. Though the trip is gru­el­ing, a 20-hour flight from Tel Aviv to Buenos Aires, with a 90-minute re­fu­el­ing lay­over in Madrid; though when he lands he im­me­di­ately re­views honor guards, holds state meet­ings that de­mand full con­cen­tra­tion, de­liv­ers lec­tures and grants in­ter­views to the lo­cal me­dia; for Ne­tanyahu this con­sti­tutes get­ting away.

Why? Be­cause he is get­ting away from Meni Naf­tali, from po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tions, and from cease­less spec­u­la­tion as to when and if At­tor­ney-Gen­eral Avichai Man­del­blit is go­ing to hand down an in­dict­ment.

For Ne­tanyahu, ad­dress­ing an eco­nomic fo­rum in Buenos Aires and Mex­ico City is a wel­come respite, al­low­ing him to speak un­in­ter­rupted about grand eco­nomic pol­icy and Is­rael’s strength­ened sta­tus in the world, rather than hav­ing to ad­dress ques­tions about po­lice cases 1000, 2000 and 3000.

On trips such as th­ese, which will cul­mi­nate in an ad­dress to the United Na­tions, where Ne­tanyahu gen­er­ally shines, he is in his most com­fort­able el­e­ment: hold­ing meet­ings with heads of state, de­fend­ing Is­rael in in­ter­views, de­liv­er­ing speeches. This is his el­e­ment, kind of like Wil­son on the golf course.

Ne­tanyahu goes abroad not in­fre­quently. In the last 10 months he has trav­eled to Azer­bai­jan, Kaza­khstan, Bri­tain, the United States, Sin­ga­pore, Australia, China, Liberia, France, Hun­gary, Rus­sia – a cou­ple of times – and now three Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries where a serv­ing Is­raeli prime min­is­ter has never set foot. Last year he also went to four other coun­tries an Is­raeli prime min­is­ter never vis­ited be­fore: Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia.

The pur­pose of th­ese trips is ob­vi­ously not to “get away,” but one of the side ben­e­fits of th­ese trav­els for the prime min­is­ter is that it gives him a break from his pesky prob­lems at home.

Ne­tanyahu is a big-pic­ture guy. He thinks in terms of the big pic­ture, and likes to talk about the big pic­ture. And that is some­thing th­ese trips af­ford him the op­por­tu­nity to do.

With Ar­gentina’s Pres­i­dent Mauri­cio Macri he talked about eco­nomic re­form, with Paraguay’s Pres­i­dent Ho­ra­cio Cartes he talked about Hezbol­lah’s in­roads into South Amer­ica, with Colom­bia’s

Juan Manuel Santos he dis­cussed re­con­struc­tion after war. And ev­ery­where he went he talked about Iran’s ne­far­i­ous de­signs.

To the jour­nal­ists ac­com­pa­ny­ing Ne­tanyahu, he also in­sisted on talk­ing about those big-pic­ture is­sues, re­fus­ing po­litely – but still re­fus­ing – to ad­dress those is­sues he left at home: his son Yair’s con­tro­ver­sial Face­book posts, how he feels about the in­ves­ti­ga­tions against him.

Just as peo­ple on va­ca­tion don’t want to be both­ered with work prob­lems, Ne­tanyahu abroad doesn’t want to be trou­bled by the is­sues that dog him at home. Those is­sues get enough at­ten­tion in Is­rael; on trips over­seas, he wants to shift the fo­cus.

“My goal is to turn Is­rael into a ris­ing world power,” he told the re­porters ac­com­pa­ny­ing him shortly after meet­ing Macri. He then ex­plained that “there is a method to this non-mad­ness,” and that this is a process of turn­ing Is­rael into a world power which is be­ing car­ried out in a “very me­thod­i­cal, sys­tem­atic” fash­ion.

In or­der for Is­rael to be a “ris­ing world power,” he said, launch­ing into a macro ex­pla­na­tion, it needs to cul­ti­vate its two strengths: its tech­ni­cal strength and mil­i­tary strength. But tech­no­log­i­cal and mil­i­tary might need a strong econ­omy to fund it, and to strengthen Is­rael’s econ­omy the coun­try is cur­rently “spread­ing out to all con­ti­nents with a speed not seen be­fore.”

Be­fore go­ing to Latin Amer­ica, Ne­tanyahu fo­cused his at­ten­tion on Africa, and this fo­cus will con­tinue, de­spite the can­cel­la­tion this week of a planned African-Is­rael sum­mit in Togo in Oc­to­ber.

The first pri­or­ity of Is­rael’s out­reach to Africa, Ne­tanyahu said, is to change that con­ti­nent’s vot­ing pat­tern on Is­rael in in­ter­na­tional fora, be­cause if Is­rael could get many of the 54 African coun­tries to change their vot­ing pat­terns, it would sig­nif­i­cantly chip away at the au­to­matic ma­jor­ity against Is­rael at the UN.

The pri­or­ity in Latin Amer­ica, how­ever, is dif­fer­ent. Though Is­rael would ob­vi­ously love to see the Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries shift their vot­ing pat­terns on Is­rael – there are, how­ever, far fewer Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries than African ones – Ne­tanyahu said the main pri­or­ity in mak­ing in­roads in South Amer­ica is eco­nomic.

“There are two ways to grow a busi­ness, and also a busi­ness called the state’s econ­omy,” he said. “You ei­ther cre­ate new prod­ucts, or you cre­ate new mar­kets. What we are do­ing here is cre­at­ing new mar­kets.”

Ne­tanyahu said that the Latin Amer­i­can mar­ket has been barely tapped by Is­rael, and that the po­ten­tial is huge. Is­rael needs a strong econ­omy not only to fund its se­cu­rity, so­cial and in­fra­struc­ture needs, but also to stay at­trac­tive to other coun­tries in the world that want what Is­rael has to of­fer.

Se­cu­rity and tech­no­log­i­cal ca­pa­bil­i­ties en­able Is­rael to build crit­i­cal al­liances, the prime min­is­ter ex­plained, but to de­velop those se­cu­rity and tech­no­log­i­cal ca­pa­bil­i­ties that other coun­tries need and want, a strong econ­omy – based on new mar­kets – is needed.

“There is cur­rently al­most no gov­ern­ment in the world not will­ing to co­op­er­ate with us on the is­sue of ter­ror­ism,” Ne­tanyahu said. And in an ap­par­ent ref­er­ence to the Arab world, he added, “even if their pub­lic dec­la­ra­tions are in the op­po­site di­rec­tion.”

In re­la­tion­ships be­tween coun­tries, Ne­tanyahu said, “there is no sit­u­a­tion where you only give. In or­der to get, you have to give. And that puts Is­rael in a po­si­tion of great strength with other coun­tries. We have ca­pa­bil­i­ties that in some cases are bet­ter than those of other coun­tries in the world, and we have some ca­pa­bil­i­ties that no other coun­try has in the world – and all of this is in ar­eas that other coun­tries are in­ter­ested in.”

Ne­tanyahu said this all con­sti­tutes a “huge change” and re­flects a great deal of re­spect for Is­rael’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties, and it also gives Is­rael a de­gree of lever­age the coun­try has never en­joyed in the past. But a strong econ­omy is es­sen­tial to pay for those unique ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

Those are the is­sues that Ne­tanyahu loves to dis­cuss, which is why this cur­rent trip is a way for him to “get away.”

And this par­tic­u­lar trip to Latin Amer­ica has – at least un­til he ar­rives in the US Fri­day af­ter­noon – also af­forded him a get­away from an­other is­sue for a few days: the Pales­tini­ans.

When­ever Ne­tanyahu trav­els to the US and Europe, much of the fo­cus is on the diplo­matic process: on set­tle­ments, on what ini­tia­tives Is­rael has to of­fer, on the sit­u­a­tion in Gaza, on the sta­tus of Jerusalem. But the Pales­tinian is­sue did not come up once in his meet­ing with Macri, and was barely dis­cussed when he met Santos.

Macri has eco­nomic re­form on his mind, and Santos is pre­oc­cu­pied with post­war re­con­struc­tion. They want to hear how Ne­tanyahu and Is­rael can help them, not lec­ture the prime min­is­ter about peace – an­other rea­son why this jam-packed trip, if not ex­actly a re­lax­ing hol­i­day, is ac­tu­ally a get­away of sorts for the prime min­is­ter. •


COLOM­BIAN PRES­I­DENT Juan Manuel Santos ges­tures to Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu and his wife, Sara, out­side the pres­i­den­tial palace in Bo­gota on Wed­nes­day.


Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu and Ar­gentina’s Pres­i­dent Mauri­cio Macri shake hands at the Casa Rosada Pres­i­den­tial Palace in Buenos Aires ear­lier this week.

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