If reelected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stays true to his political survivalism, he’ll take his coalition toward the center—but to what end?
Pierre Klochendler, last updated: January 30, 2013
Inter Press Service
“He who believes doesn’t fear”…re-elected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hums a popular tune played with great intensity by his supporters. Indeed, faith is what Netanyahu badly needs right now as people showed just how little faith they have in him. “We’ll have coalition problems,” confides a Likud lawmaker.
Support for Netanyahu got him just enough seats in Parliament for his Likud party to keep him in office while a surging centrist vote inflated support for Yair Lapid, only a year ago a TV celebrity freshly converted to politics, and now king-maker, power-broker and potential game-changer.
“Those who voted for us chose normalcy, mutual trust, education and housing, care for the weak,” declared Lapid when it became clear that his Yesh ‘Atid (There’s a Future) was Israel’s second largest party.
“The state of Israel faces the most complex challenges,” warned Lapid. “The economic crisis threatens our middle class; Israel is isolated because of the diplomatic impasse.”
Two years ago, ‘The people demand social justice’ became the rallying call for middle-class Israelis trying against all odds to find a way of life that fulfils their expectation – normalcy. The protest subsided, but social grievances lingered.
Attentive to people’s demands, Lapid campaigned for reduction of the cost of living, including affordable housing for young couples; a more equal sharing of the defence burden by proposing to draft the ultra-Orthodox currently exempt from military service; and a return to peace talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Netanyahu chose to ignore those demands; he recycled old ideas. His unbending, unforgiving motto was ‘A strong Prime Minister for a strong Israel’. But a budget deficit of 10.5 billion dollars (4.2 percent of GDP) betrayed Israel’s vulnerability.
Just as he stood twice already as prime minister (in 1996 and 2009) before the Western Wall, Judaism’s most revered site, Netanyahu stood there again after he voted – as if he himself was the last wall against a division of Jerusalem.
He thought he would uphold his political stature if only he maintained a status quo of occupation in the West Bank and buttressed Israel’s fences and stockade against Syria, Egypt, and the Gaza Strip.
He refused to make the most of progress made during the Annapolis peace process (2007-8) by his predecessor Ehud Olmert, instead preferring to argue for starting peace talks all over again from scratch.
At the beginning of his term in May 2009, during his only meaningful policy address at Bar Ilan University, he agreed to the principle of a “demilitarised state” in Palestine. Then he consented, albeit reluctantly as a result of “proximity talks”, to a ten-month moratorium on settlement construction.
But instead of following the U.S. advice that he prolongs the freeze for an additional three months, he initiated a surge in settlement expansion in occupied East Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank.
During his re-election campaign, apart from a self-declared record on security, the sole course of action he bragged about was the steps his government promoted to create a competitive environment in the cellular market which led to a tangible decrease in telecommunication fees.
Re-elected yet barely surviving, Netanyahu belatedly rephrased his guiding principles after his more difficult than expected re-election. Though “preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons” is still “first priority”, “the pursuit of peace is now our third one,” he promised. And, he vowed to redress social iniquities.
Post-electoral pledges aside, Netanyahu is already at work cobbling together a centre-right governing coalition that would include Lapid. But whether he excludes some of his natural allies – the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home or the ultra-Orthodox – remains to be seen.
Either way, a unilateral strike on Iran’s nuclear sites seems reduced to making the usual empty threats if to listen to Likud legislator Tsahi Ha-Negbi: “Netanyahu has a strong understanding that unless the world prevents a nuclear Iran, we’ll have to take the initiative.”
Israel’s public television news editor Uri Levy believes “there’s no difference between Right, Centre and Left – everyone knows Iran’s threat. So Netanyahu enjoys a consensus on whatever he’ll do on Iran. Obviously, it depends on what Iran will do.”
Will Netanyahu continue to manage the conflict with the Palestinians or strive to resolve it? Ha-Negbi is cautious: “An overwhelming majority of Israelis are waiting for a big compromise – if it’ll be met by the same understanding and historical compromise by the Palestinians.”
U.S. President Barack Obama can now afford a smile. As both leaders start their respective new term, Netanyahu will want an improvement of their relationship – if he puts together a moderate coalition.
Ha-Negbi predicts that it will be more difficult for Netanyahu now to root Israel in more of the same status quo and vacuum of initiatives.
If his first term provides an indication of his second-term performance, it will be worth examining the kind of coalition Netanyahu intends to forge in the weeks ahead. Left with no choice but the people’s choice, he’s reaching out to the Centre.
If he stays true to himself (as in ‘keen to survive’), Netanyahu will split up with some of the pro-occupation annexationist and religious Right and move towards the Centre and, maybe, towards a modicum of two-state peace leverage that would eventually split the land roughly down the middle.
Meanwhile, between the old ‘much ado about nothing’ Netanyahu who did barely nothing meaningful during his first term and the new Netanyahu who, while putting up his coalition together, is at his best manoeuvring in order to survive, pundits already foresee early elections.
Pierre Klochendler is a contributor to Inter Press Service.
Victor Davis Hanson is a fellow based at the hawkish Hoover Institution and an ardent proponent of more aggressive U.S. actions in the Middle East. He thinks that terrorist “slaughter might cease” if the U.S. simply identified “our enemies as radical Muslims.” He’s also opposed diplomacy with Iran and said the landmark nuclear deal “will make the world a much more dangerous place.”
Ken Adelman is a former member of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board during the George W. Bush administration who infamously said that “liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk.” Although Adelman later criticized the Bush administration for its failed policies in Iraq and publically supported Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential election, in recent years he’s denounced Obama for his approach towards Russia, stating that unlike President Reagan, Obama “seems quite content to settle for a tie” with Russia.
A controversial retired U.S. Army general and former drug czar under President Bill Clinton, Barry McCaffery is a TV pundit who featured prominently in a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times article about retired military officers who were debriefed by the Pentagon on messages to deliver during TV appearances. Discussing McCaffery’s track record, Jeremy Scahill says that he has “made a tremendous amount of money off of war contracting and then he's brought onto these networks and treated as just an objective observer.”
Julie Finley is a former U.S.amabssador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and was a founding member of the now defunct U.S. Committee on NATO, a group that advocated using NATO as an instrument of U.S. military power. Recently, Finley co-signed an open letter stating that “the West must ratchet up serious sanctions against the Putin regime and immediately provide Ukraine with the full support, including military equipment and intelligence cooperation.”
Former governor of Arkansas and evangelical pastor Mike Huckabee has suspended his presidential campaign after a dismal showing in the Iowa caucuses, which he won in his 2008 campaign. Huckabee was rumored to be weighing an endorsement of Donald Trump, though when asked about it the former governor said “that’s nonsense.”
For media inquiries,
or call 202-234-9382.
February 09, 2016
Billionaire Republican mega donor Sheldon Adelson’s media properties have come out strongly in support of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).
February 01, 2016
Middle East instability is in large part due to past dictators centralizing the state around themselves and a small cadre of elites.
January 31, 2016
More should be demanded of the 2016 presidential candidates than mindless bluster or vacuous pronouncements on the Middle East.
January 22, 2016
Similar to her 2008 attacks against Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton is now criticizing Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) for his advocacy of diplomacy with Iran.
January 21, 2016
Neoconservative columnists like the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens continue to use the same discredited arguments to defend U.S. support for the staunchly authoritarian Saudi regime.
January 21, 2016
Rightwing foreign policy hawks have applied a double standard in their comments on the prisoner exchange between Iran and the United States.
January 17, 2016
The Iran nuclear deal was not a “triumph” for the sanctions policy against Iran, but rather was due to pragmatic Iranian elites viewing it as in their country’s interest.