Benjamin Netanyahu has won another term as Israel’s prime minister even as his support base seems more tenuous than ever.
Pierre Klochendler , last updated: January 23, 2013
Inter Press Service
Against all expectations, he could have been defeated. Now, he faces uncertainty over the kind of governing coalition he will lead and thus the kind of policies he will carry out. And he faces a lingering question: can any prospective coalition last?
The initial result was astounding – floating around a tie between Netanyahu’s right-wing camp with 61 seats and his centre-left opposition with 59 seats in the Knesset parliament’s 120 seats.
So, addressing the Israel voter, the self-designate new prime minister decidedly put on a brave face of his own.
“I’m proud to be your prime minister. Once again, you’ve proven that Israel is an exemplary vibrant and dynamic democracy,” Netanyahu harangued his supporters at the Likud-Beitenu headquarters located on the metropolitan’s Exhibition Ground.
Results show that support for the joint Likud-Beitenu list of candidates Netanyahu headed has dropped dramatically, from its previous 42 seats to as few as 31.
Former TV star Yair Lapid, a newcomer in politics, stole the show. His centrist party Yesh ‘Atid (There’s a Future) has become the second largest, with 19 seats.
Empowered with a strong social programme focusing on cheaper housing for young couples, compulsory draft of religious students exempted from serving in the military and, in general, with an uncompromising fight against social iniquities, Lapid has suddenly emerged as the king-maker of any future sustainable coalition.
“Our responsibility is to form the largest possible coalition,” Lapid pledged during his party’s celebration.
Lapid’s vow was echoed by the prime minister-designate. “We must forge the largest possible coalition and, I am in the process of fulfilling this mission,” promised Netanyahu barely two hours after the exit polls.
“It won’t be easy,” predicts Uri Levy, news editor at Israel’s public television. “He’ll have to compromise, change his way of thinking.” Netanyahu is known to be adverse to change.
Election Day seemed auspicious. Flanked by his two sons and his wife, the incumbent Netanyahu was one of the first Israelis to cast a ballot for his Likud-Beitenu list of candidates.
Since he had called for early elections, Israelis were made to believe by opinion polls what Netanyahu himself was made to believe – his re-election for another term at the helm was a certainty.
“He’s obviously not very happy with what happened,” is Levy’s understatement. “He expected a lot more mandates.”
The politically savvy Netanyahu made a beginner’s mistake.
First, by merging his right-wing Likud list with the more right-wing Israel-Beitenu party, he alienated supporters who dislike either one of the two parties.
Then, he harassed the further to-the-right Naphtali Bennett because polls, which he’s known to check compulsively, predicted that Bennett’s Jewish Home party which caters to settlers’ interests would enjoy unprecedented support – though it didn’t. There too the opinion polls were misleading.
Albeit a bright and sunny Election Day, it’s neither a bright future nor a sunny political horizon which got Netanyahu re-elected, but fear – fear of a third Palestinian Intifadah uprising; fear of fallouts from the bloody civil war raging in neighbouring Syria; fear of Iran’s nuclear programme.
Netanyahu is adept at playing those fears. Hence, his opening remarks at the start of the last cabinet meeting two days before Election Day. “The problem in the Middle East is Iran’s attempt to build nuclear weapons, and the chemical weapons in Syria,” he warned.
He added: “History won’t forgive those who allow Iran to arm itself with nuclear weapons. This was and remains the main mission facing not only myself and Israel, but the entire world.”
His campaign was as dull and dormant as the political status quo he has prudently maintained during his first term.
Except for a ten-month freeze on settlement construction and one brief encounter with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in 2010, he has made no peace moves towards the Palestinians.
He launched a brief military operation on Hamas in the Gaza Strip in November and suffered a stinging defeat at the UN ten days later when the General Assembly voted by overwhelming majority to upgrade Palestine to “non-member observer state”.
He sounded the alarm against Iran’s nuclear programme; threatened unilateral military action; yet refrained from committing himself to both his own red line and deadline.
Making national security and national strength the twin themes of his campaign, Netanyahu underestimated the lack of social security felt by a middle class weakened and pressured by his ultra-neoliberal economic policy.
Netanyahu ignored the fear shared by a majority of Israelis of a socio-economic downfall, an anxiety so apparent one-and-a-half years ago when half a million demonstrators descended to the street and demanded social justice.
“The election results provide an opportunity for change for the benefits of all our citizens,” now reluctantly retorts the champion of unbridled neoliberalism.
Netanyahu won and lost the elections at the same time. He won because Israelis fear change; he almost lost because they strongly feel for change.
Retired Gen. Jack Keane is a frequent guest on Fox News and a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, where he is a reliable advocate for hawkish, aggressive U.S. foreign policies. Keane has been a vocal supporter of U.S. strikes in both Iraq and Syria on ISIS. However, left unmentioned in Keane's media appearances are his extensive ties to military contractors that might benefit from a protracted conflict in the Middle East—including Academi, the latest incarnation of the notorious Blackwater, which in 2012 hired Keane as a “strategic adviser.”
Ben Wattenberg is an author and demographer who was based at the American Enterprise Institute for many years. He was also the host of Think Tank, a PBS talk show that aired during 1994-2010. A veteran of the Coalition for a Democratic Majority and the Committee on the Present Danger, Wattenberg was part of a vanguard of neoconservative figures who in the 1970s drifted from the Democratic Party to the hawkish right. Alongside his foreign policy advocacy, Wattenberg has written numerous alarmist tracts on social issues, including worrying about declining birth rates in the U.S., Europe, and Asia, and warning that “Divorce, legalized abortion, and easy-to-use contraceptives have all contributed to the numbers of ‘never-born babies,’” creating a “social deficit’ that plagues nations across the world.”
Brigette Gabriel, a Lebanese-born anti-Islamic activist and founder of the right-wing group ACT! for America, is notorious for making fear-mongering claims about terrorism and Islam. She has called the Islamic faith “not compatible with Western civilization” and insisted that a practicing Muslim “cannot be a loyal citizen of the United States.” At a Heritage Foundation event earlier this year, Gabriel drew scrutiny after she verbally attacked a Muslim American law student, questioning whether the student was an American. More recently, capitalizing on right-wing hysteria over immigration and extremist groups in the Middle East, Gabriel alleged that ISIS members were crossing into the U.S. from Mexico, citing reports from unnamed “members of the Department of Homeland Security.”
As a director of the Project for the New American Century in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Gary Schmitt helped spread inaccurate information about Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction and promote the invasion of Iraq. Schmitt subsequently supported U.S. intervention in Syria, whose own civil war was directly linked to the fallout from Iraq. Schmitt has also been a vocal advocate of NATO expansion, which many observers think has contributed to the current tensions between the West and Russia. Schmitt has also advocated revoking U.S. security guarantees for Western European countries unless they increase their military budgets and adopt a more controversial approach to Russia.
AIPAC’s failed efforts to force U.S. intervention in Syria’s civil war and to scuttle U.S. nuclear negotiations with Iran, along with its increasing alienation from younger Jewish Americans on the Palestinian issue, have led many critics of the lobby to conclude that its formidable influence is slowly eroding. “Today, a growing number of American Jews, though still devoted to Israel, struggle with the lack of progress toward peace with the Palestinians. Many feel that AIPAC does not speak for them,” reported The New Yorker in a lengthy profile last August. On the other hand, the group was still able to push through emergency funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, prompting one GOP Senate aide to complain, “The worst part was having to vote for this at a time we are all so upset by the killing in Gaza. It's as if AIPAC knows how angry we are so the whole Senate has to take their test. They will make us cast a totally symbolic vote, just to show who's in charge.”
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