Victory for Netanyahu and success all round for Israel
When it came down to putting envelopes in boxes, “King Bibi” was the candidate who has shown a willingness to face up to international pressure (particularly from the US) and not to back down on the nation’s security in successive failed peace talks with the rejectionist Palestinians
Everyone woke up surprised on Wednesday morning to find that, against all recent polls, Benjamin Netanyahu had won another term in office, lining him up to become Israel’s longest-serving Prime Minster.
Once again, both pre-election and exit polls got it wrong and the winning Likud party cemented Israel’s move to the right in recent years. Historically Israel had been a left-leaning state, founded on socialist principles (think the famous kibbutz system), but 20 years of terror while “peace talks” stumbled and failed have succeeded in driving Israelis into the arms of the more hawkish right.
The turmoils of two intifadas and assorted aggressions from both the PA and Hamas have led the state into a security-minded mindset that sees no way through to true peace with the Palestinians. This, in turn, has led to successive victories in recent elections for the pro-settlement, security focused right-wing parties.
At one level, Netanyahu’s success is simple; no-one believes the “two-state solution” mantra will ever work out. The Israeli left committed itself to continued negotiations (but there are none to continue), while the right stands firm on continuing the settlement movement and not conceding a state to terrorist entities. As a meerkat might say: “Simples”!
At another level, however, there are important social issues that right now concern many Israelis more than what goes on behind the security barrier. The spiralling cost of living is driving more Israelis into poverty and the left is seen to stand for a more just society.
The Herzog/Livni “Zionist Union”, no doubt attempting to sound more right wing than it is, made a good showing in the polls simply because they were scratching where so many Israelis itch.
The success of the IDF and the ugly security barrier in reducing terror attacks almost to zero in recent years has led to a distancing of security from the minds of many who live out of sight of the issues. At this level, Herzog and Livni’s “Zionist Union” is in favour.
The rising cost of living in Israel doesn’t just affect what tourists pay for their hotels, it is the source of very real divisions in society. Street demonstrations in 2011 involving hundreds of thousands of Israelis were a protest against rising housing costs and a deterioration in public services (particularly health and education).
At the time, Netanyahu was accused of being insensitive to the needs of the electorate, despite making moves to try and alleviate the housing shortage.
A left wing focus on “social justice” while promising to continue to support a two-state solution with the Palestinians won the Zionist Union a lot of favour, cementing Herzog as the new leader on the left of Israeli politics.
The desire for improved social conditions gave the left a boost that showed up in the pre-election polls. Countering this, Netanyahu came out with some aggressive statements in the few days before voting, including a pledge to continue building settlements and a reversal of his (probably reluctant) commitment to a negotiated Palestinian state.
It is likely also that his rousing speech to the US Congress on 3rd March gave him more points at home than had been thought. He waved the flag for his nation’s safety in one of the world’s most powerful political forums and in doing so he stood up to a US President seen as unfriendly (hostile even) at home.
And let’s not forget the Israeli Arabs. In an almost historically unique move, the factional Arab parties formed a united list to ensure that more of them would win seats under new electoral rules.
This tactic has brought them the success of a higher ranking in the final results. Unfortunately they will negate this themselves by refusing to join any government; a move that does not help the further political integration of Arab citizens into the workings of the state.
Ever the pragmatists, Israeli voters seem to have plumped once again for security over comfort. As always, security issues for the tiny Jewish state are not just an argument or debate, they are existential.
It is still true in the 21st century that Israel has to win every war it is faced with, while its enemies only have to win one. In a nation where almost every voter has served or is serving in the military, everyone is conscious of this.
When it came down to putting envelopes in boxes, “King Bibi” was the candidate who has shown a willingness to face up to international pressure (particularly from the US) and not to back down on the nation’s security in successive failed peace talks.
He has maybe more of the “killer instinct” that Israelis like in their Prime Ministers than the more mild-mannered Herzog.
Assuming Netanyahu succeeds in forming a stable coalition over the next few weeks, he cannot afford to ignore the societal problems facing the electorate. He will have to show himself able to address both external and internal issues skilfully and give as much attention to what is going on on the streets of Tel Aviv as he does to Iran’s nukes or Syria’s civil war.
If he can succeed in that, he will earn more respect in his third term as PM from a wider range of the Israeli electorate.
Nick Gray is Director, Christian Middle East Watch, a British organisation dedicated to objective and factual discussion of Middle Eastern issues, especially of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Nick, who is a regular contributor to The Commentator, blogs at cmewonline.com
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