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The unexpected election results have created daunting challenges for Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Many Israelis dislike Netanyahu.
He has personality deficiencies and, like every Israeli leader since
Ben-Gurion, has made major mistakes.
But to his credit, over the past
four years he has moved Likud to the center and achieved a national
consensus. He succeeded in resisting concerted global pressures which
would have undermined our security and has created an international
awareness of the dangers of a nuclear Iran. He also made crucial
strategic decisions that proved to be highly beneficial and undoubtedly
provided greater security to the nation than his predecessors.
Nevertheless, his electoral
strategies proved to be disastrous. Had he gone to the polls as
initially planned and not entered into the stillborn alliance with
Kadima and subsequently consummated the joint list with Yisrael
Beiteinu, he would today be in an infinitely better position.
Nevertheless, the extraordinary
success of Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid may in the long-term prove to be a
blessing for both Israel and Netanyahu. It may enable him to introduce
highly overdue domestic reforms and to chart a balanced approach towards
the Palestinians on behalf of a broad national government.
In viewing this, one must
dismiss the media nonsense that the elections created an evenly balanced
right – left division. Setting aside the fact that such terms are
meaningless in this context, a government dependent on the support of
twelve overtly anti-Zionist Arab MKs is inconceivable.
Nor has the nation moved to the
right. The elimination of liberals and the success of hard-liners in the
Likud primaries reflected internal party machinations rather than a
genuine national shift to the right. However this cost Likud votes and
Netanyahu’s subsequent efforts to compete for hard right voters may have
This election was not a vote of
no-confidence in Netanyahu’s handling of the peace process, relations
with the United States or foreign affairs. The only parties directing
the campaign against Netanyahu’s external policies were Meretz and Tzipi
Livni’s Tnuah, both of which combined only obtained 12 seats.
Despite some lip service
criticizing the government handling of negotiations, the major
opposition parties concentrated primarily on domestic social issues. In
particular, Yair Lapid’s challenge against ultra-Orthodox extremism -
his call to engage them in the draft or take up gainful employment,
attracted many voters.
In terms of foreign affairs,
despite the massive decline of support for Likud Beiteinu, the vast
majority of the electorate still prefer Netanyahu over all other
candidates to retain the leadership.
A consensus prevails amongst
Israelis supporting Netanyahu’s view that it is impossible to achieve
peace with the Palestinians under their current leadership. Mahmoud
Abbas is now perceived as a charlatan, speaking with a forked tongue and
committed to ending Jewish sovereignty no less than Hamas. His comments
this week of Zionist collaboration with the Nazis should not be
surprising given his doctorate was premised on Holocaust denial.
However most Israelis have no
wish to absorb and rule over millions of Palestinians and oppose
annexing the territories or creating a bi-national state. They favor the
status quo, but only until such time as a genuine peace partner emerges
and a Palestinian state no longer threatens Israel’s security. Thus, in
the present climate, most Israelis back Netanyahu’s unwillingness to
cede further concessions and endorse his efforts to achieve interim
There is awareness that we face
unprecedented global pressures and that this is a critical moment in our
history. We are surrounded by adversaries dedicated to our destruction.
Aside from Hamas and Hezbollah, we have chaotic Islamist regimes in
Syria, Egypt and possibly Jordan. We face an existential threat from
Iran which must be prevented from becoming a nuclear power.
In this environment, with the
Europeans ready to impose more unrealistic demands upon us, our ties
with the USA are more crucial than ever. Yet recent signals from the
administration are troubling. Obama has nominated as Defense Secretary, a
man with a consistent record of hostility towards Israel and opposed to
any form of military action against Iran.
Obama’s offensive remarks on the
eve of the election that he has a better understanding of Israel’s
needs than Netanyahu represented blatant interference in a sovereign
country’s domestic affairs and a display of contempt for an ally.
Should Congress provide Obama
with a free hand to deal with Israel, over the next four years he could
make our life extraordinarily difficult.
The US could suspend employing
its veto against one-sided UN votes sanctioning Israel; there may be
calls to accept the indefensible ‘49 armistice lines as borders (with
swaps which the Palestinians will never agree to); requests for
additional territorial concessions to the Palestinians without
reciprocity; demands for a settlement freeze including within the major
settlement blocs and Jewish Jerusalem; pressure to divide Jerusalem,
despite the fact that even most Israeli Arabs prefer to remain under
However, despite Obama no longer
requiring votes or support for reelection and despite his obvious
dislike of Netanyahu, he cannot simply ignore or overrule the wishes of
Congress. Fortunately as of now, the US–Israel relationship remains
solid and Congress is committed to retaining the alliance.
To retain our strong ties with
Congress and the American people, Netanyahu must create a broad
government and demonstrate that he is acting on behalf of the entire
nation. He would then have the ability to make concessions on secondary
issues whilst remaining firm on those matters that can impact on
Israel’s basic security requirements. He would also be able to
demonstrate to the world that his policies are supported by the vast
majority of Israelis and expose the falsehood of liberals seeking to
depict Israel’s policies as being based on hard right influences rather
than a national consensus.
The principal obstacle which
could thwart this would be his inability to retain support of both Shas
and Yesh Atid and also respond to popular demands that haredim
participate in the draft or national service and become encouraged to
work for a livelihood rather than being lifelong recipients of welfare.
This will undoubtedly represent a key condition for Lapid joining the
government and Shas (many of whose supporters, unlike United Torah
Judaism, serve in the IDF) will be under pressure to compromise on this
If Shas, Yesh Atid, Kadima and
Bayit Yehudi join Likud-Beiteinu to form a coalition, Netanyahu would
then preside over a stable government based on 74 MKs not subject to
intimidation by any single faction.
The effervescent Naftali Bennett
of Bayit Yehudi, whose dramatic surge was also a highlight of the
election, will be obliged overcome his previous confrontations with
Netanyahu and control the extremists in his party.
Failure to create a broad
coalition would confront Netanyahu with a nightmare situation of heading
a narrow government whose policies would be subject to the veto of
haredim or ideological hardliners promoting annexation and convinced
that we can stand alone without the support of a superpower.
Under such circumstances no
stable government could be formed. The chaos arising from this would
undermine our ability to confront our adversaries and withstand global
To avert this situation, we are
entitled to demand that our political representatives behave as
patriotic Israelis, suspend their differences and collaborate to promote
the national interest.