Israeli Elections: The Aftermath
For the 20th time in history, Israeli voters went to the polls this past month to elect a new Knesset. Prior to the election, many polls predicted a win for the centrist left party, the Zionist Union; however, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s center-right party, Likud, was ultimately overwhelmingly reelected. Assuming he can assemble a coalition in the requisite 45 days, Mr. Netanyahu will be serving his third term as Prime Minister. Prior to the election, Mr. Netanyahu was under scrutiny over a controversial visit to Congress and a questionable and contentious press release in which he seemingly back-pedaled on his commitment to a two-state solution and accused left-wing parties of shuttling Israeli-Arab voters to the polls in droves. This controversy has been met with harsh disapproval from the Obama Administration as well as a renewed tension within the Arab community both inside and outside of Israel.
The Friday before the election, Mr. Netanyahu held a press conference in which he discussed the priority of “taking care of Hamas,” the elected government of Gaza which the United States has deemed a terrorist organization. Before the conference, Mr. Netanyahu’s campaign released a statement stating, “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that [in light of] the situation that has arisen in the Middle East, any evacuated territory would fall into the hands of Islamic extremism and terror organizations supported by Iran. Therefore, there will be no concessions or withdrawals; they are simply irrelevant.” When pressed, Mr. Netanyahu concluded that “I think the Israeli people understand now what I always say: that there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan.” By saying this, the Prime Minister signified how unlikely he saw any form of two-state solution due to security issues and a lack of a peaceful partner on the other side.
Having included himself in peace talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, facilitated by Secretary of State John Kerry, Mr. Netanyahu had always been an advocate for a two-state solution, so his press conference confused many supporters. Political analysts saw this statement as a way for the prime minister to gain support from the extreme right-wing of his party in time for the elections, making sure that the seats that would have been given to Naftali Bennett’s pro-settler Jewish Home party and Avigdor Lieberman's ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu were instead given to his party, Likud. This tactic is widely credited with his reclaiming the Knesset. After realizing how harmful his statement had been to Israel’s international image, Mr. Netanyahu elucidated his position, telling MSNBC, “I don’t want a one-state solution. I want a sustainable, peaceful, two-state solution. But for that, circumstances have to change.”
President Obama did not take the prime minister’s comments lightly. “We believe that two states is the best path forward for Israel’s security, for Palestinian aspirations, and for regional stability. That’s our view, and that continues to be our view,” Mr. Obama said in a press conference following the elections. “And Prime Minister Netanyahu has a different approach. And so this can’t be reduced to a matter of somehow let’s all hold hands and sing ‘Kumbaya.’ This is a matter of figuring out how do we get through a real knotty policy difference that has great consequences for both countries and for the region.”
Since Mr. Netanyahu’s formal commitment to a Palestinian state in his Bar-Ilan University speech in 2009, he has never since backed away from the conditions that he set. “If we get a guarantee of demilitarization, and if the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state, we are ready to agree to a real peace agreement, a demilitarized Palestinian state side by side with the Jewish state.”
A little less than a year ago, the Palestinian Authority formed a coalition with Hamas, whose charter clearly states: “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.” Following the issuance of this charter, the two organizations formed a unity government, eventually leading to the war in Gaza this past summer. Since then, Mr. Netanyahu has been vocal about his skepticism for peace without Mr. Abbas and the unity government’s full cooperation, making this past month’s statements not as surprising as the media made them out to be.
While the tensions are high between Israel and its Arab citizens, this election recorded an enormous record turnout for Israeli-Arab voters, resulting in the Arab bloc gaining an unprecedented number of seats. This surge in political participation by average Israeli-Arabs reveals the empowerment of the too often disaffiliated citizens, one of Israel’s many democratic features.
In 2012, Mr. Obama famously said that the United States would “always have Israel’s back,” but, after Mr. Netanyahu’s tendentious statement, Mr. Obama stated that he is planning on “reassessing” America’s relationship with Israel. This relationship is vital to Israel’s existence, as the U.S. sits as one of the five permanent members on the United Nations’ Security Council and has in the past blocked sanctions and other considerable threats to Israel’s statehood. According to the White House, “Last year, the U.S. opposed 18 resolutions in the UN General Assembly that were biased against Israel.” With this most recent election under Israel’s belt, Israel’s ties with Mr. Obama, the Democrats, and the United Nations remain fragile and incomparably important.
- Elisha Jacobs