After his historic 12 years as Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu’s legacy begins with two words: It’s complicated. But whatever your view of the man and his remarkable service, everyone must agree that he leaves office having made an indelible mark on Israel — its culture, its place in the world, its security and its economy. Netanyahu, the Americanized right-wing Israeli nationalist, led his country into the 21st century.
Netanyahu’s greatest success has been the continued security of the Jewish state. Wide-scale terror attacks have largely abated since his return to office in 2009 — the relative quiet a byproduct of Israeli security cooperation with the much-maligned Palestinian Authority. On Netanyahu’s watch, the Iron Dome defense system became operational in 2011. Since then it has intercepted thousands of rockets and saved countless Israeli lives.
While the overall safety of Israelis is Netanyahu’s most significant accomplishment, his crowning achievement was the much-celebrated, surprise signing of the Abraham Accords last summer. The Trump administration quietly brokered a deal for Israel to normalize relations with the United Arab Emirates, a once-unthinkable development. Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan soon followed, with others on the horizon. The move has further isolated Iran, Israel’s sworn enemy.
But although there is plenty of blame to go around, efforts to pursue peace with the Palestinians never got very far under Netanyahu’s watch. His inconsistent messaging — in 2009 he became the first member of the Likud party to support a two-state solution, and later promised that he would never agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state — and extending invitations for Palestinian leadership to return to the negotiating table in the same breath as he gave the green light to expand Israeli settlements, made it pretty clear that the Palestinian peace process was not his priority.
And he unquestionably played a role in expanding the unwelcome politicization of U.S. support for Israel in Congress and beyond when he boldly defied President Barack Obama and urged Congress to vote against the Iran nuclear deal, and later cozied up to President Donald Trump.
Divisiveness increasingly became Netanyahu’s tactic to stay in power. But divisiveness can only take a leader so far. Thus, while Israel impresses with its burgeoning tech sector and the way it slayed the COVID pandemic — and Netanyahu gets very high marks for his successes in both areas — Israelis are divided and exhausted as they never have been before, as Netanyahu was seen as wearing down the machinery of democracy in his attempts to avoid the charges of bribery, breach of trust and fraud against him.
Israelis were so exhausted that eight political parties with little more in common than wanting to send Netanyahu packing found a way to create a razor thin governing majority whose longevity is anyone’s guess.
While the ouster of Netanyahu opens a new era for Israel, the country and the Jewish people owe Netanyahu a debt of sincere gratitude for all of the good he was able to accomplish during his historic tenure.