Bibi Wins Re-election in Israel, But at What Cost?

Image by World Economic Forum

Image by World Economic Forum

Incumbent Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has won re-election. Under immense pressure, Netanyahu displayed his winner mentality and insatiable desire to govern Israel by seemingly pulling out all the stops to assure another Likud victory, but at what cost?

First there was Netanyahu’s Republican-hosted speech to U.S. Congress where his apparent aim was to display robust leadership and undermine President Obama’s negotiations with Iran. This, in and of itself, was arguably a watershed moment both for the Republican Party and America’s longstanding bipartisan support for Israel.

Then as the election drew closer, Netanyahu made baffling accusations of worldwide conspiracies to oust him from leadership and overtly renounced the idea of a two-state solution that would establish a Palestinian state. Still, the polls showed things were going to be close as the Zionist Union’s representative Isaac Herzog appeared to be addressing the concerns of many voters with his campaign focusing strongly on socio-economic issues.

With the polls just hours away from closing on election day, perhaps in a last-ditch effort to rally support, Netanyahu sounded the alarm over high voter turnout among Israeli Arabs. Netanyahu stunned many when he asserted, “The right-wing government is in danger. Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls.” The Likud’s larger than expected victory indicates that this worked.

Netanyahu appealing to anti-peace, anti-Arab sentiment in Israel can seem a bit preposterous from an outside perspective, and rightfully so. Arabs in Israel were deemed a threat by their Prime Minister for simply exercising their democratic rights. It can be hard to imagine such overt hostility toward minorities and against peace being tolerated in a democratic country like America, but Israel is not America.

Democracies are malleable; they reflect the environment in which they exist. Netanyahu’s risky tactics showed that he understands the majority of the Israeli population he passionately represents. Netanyahu shares and understands the deep-seated security concerns of the Israeli people, hence him winning another democratic election. Nevertheless, the impact of his high-risk tactics in recent weeks, though they won popular support in Israel, may prompt a debilitating backlash from the U.S. and much of the international community.

While many have questioned whether Netanyahu ever really supported a two-state solution, his unequivocal rejection may have done irreversible damage as far as international perceptions and U.S.-Israeli relations. It is, therefore, no surprise that Netanyahu immediately retracted his statement rejecting a two-state solution after winning the election. Even so, as Thomas Friedman said in the New York Times, “You cannot win that dirty and just walk away like nothing happened.”

Indeed, according to a White House official, President Obama “told the Prime Minister that we will need to re-assess our options following the Prime Minister’s new positions and comments regarding the two-state solution.” Obama’s sharpened tone toward Netanyahu suggests the undying bipartisan support America has shown Israel in the past may be in jeopardy.

America has long served as a shield for Israel against international pressure by invariably vetoing resolutions hostile to Israel in the UN Security Council. Netanyahu’s recent statements and rifting relationship with the Obama administration means things could change drastically in the UN. This can be considered good news for those who still have high hopes for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

“I, as a Palestinian, breathed a sigh of relief when it became clear that his Likud Party had won the largest number of seats in the Knesset,” explained Yousef Munayyer in his recent op-ed. Although it seems a bit counterintuitive at first, this standpoint is actually not very outlandish. Sharing the same optimism, secretary general of the Fatah Central Committee Jibril Rajoub suggested that Netanyahu’s re-election is “wonderful for us…this will just prove to the international community that we have no one to speak to on the Israeli side.”

Munayyer and Rajoub appear to be insinuating that with the world feeling as if there is no one for Palestinians to speak to on the Israeli side, the international community will fill the void. Therefore, an internationally recognized Palestinian state, UN resolutions criticizing Israeli policies and using the International Criminal Court to press war-crime charges against Israel suddenly seem more realistic to them than ever before. The international community certainly has plenty of incentive to seek a resolution to the conflict.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has grown beyond itself and become something much larger than just a domestic issue. Violent dissension that originates on Israeli and Palestinian soil exacerbates tensions that spill into the streets of cities all over the globe. Escalations in the conflict appear to directly correlate with escalations in civil unrest and anti-Jewish crimes throughout world.

The war in Gaza last summer triggered massive protests in all corners of the world. Many demonstrations remained peaceful, but some grew disturbingly hateful and violent. In France, for example, protesters attacked synagogues and chanted things like “Death to Jews” and “Hitler was right.” Exponential increases of violence and civil strife whenever major conflict erupts in the Israeli-Palestinian feud is hugely concerning for the international community.

It still remains largely unclear what exactly will happen now that Netanyahu has won. While empowering himself domestically, he appears to have weakened Israel internationally. His actions could possibly – albeit inadvertently – increase the chances of there being a Palestinian state by isolating Israel and galvanizing the international community into action. We will likely see more international pressure on Israel than ever before, and this comes at a time when the U.S. is increasingly less willing assuage the pressure.

Image courtesy of World Economic Forum

Robert Souza

About Robert Souza

Robert recently received his master's degree in International Relations from Suffolk University in Boston. At Suffolk he was a member of the Political Science Association and the Students for Justice in Palestine Association. He can be reached at rts2012@gmail.com

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