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.
In recent testimony before Congress, the controversial nuclear non-proliferation expert David Albright argued that “Iran’s long history of violations, subterfuge, and non-cooperation requires extraordinary [verification] arrangements to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is indeed peaceful.” The remarks earned a sharp rebuke from retired British diplomat Peter Jenkins, who wrote that the “transgressions” Albright referred to “are not as exceptional as [he] would like members of Congress to believe.” Jenkins added: “It’s a pity that Congress turns so often to Albright for testimony on Iran. He is too inclined to over-dramatize Iran’s nuclear transgressions and to proclaim the necessity of making demands of Iran that can only lead to one thing: the failure of negotiations.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a 2016 Republican presidential candidate, is known for his hawkish views on U.S. security and close ties to prominent neoconservatives and “pro-Israel” megadonors. He recently gave his first major foreign policy speech, which one journalist described as coming “straight out of the neocon playbook, calling for a robust military and aggressive approach to intervention.” Rubio has lambasted the nuclear negotiations with Iran, supported Ukraine membership in NATO, opposed the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and promised to “reimpose sanctions” on Cuba. “Rubio looks, walks, and quacks like a dyed-in-the-wool neocon,” opined one observer.
One of The Israel Project’s (TIP) biggest donors, billionaire Paul Singer, has been in the media spotlight recently as observers have begun associating his political funding to his long-running dispute with Argentina over its 2001 debt default. Since Singer increased donations to TIP in 2012, TIP has “provided a steady stream of content critical of Kirchner’s government,” according to one account.
Billionaire investor Paul Singer gained media attention recently when Argentina President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner pointed out his generous financial support for neoconservative groups that have promoted the idea that Argentina abetted alleged Iranian terrorism. Kirchner and others have pointed out how Singer simultaneously has sought to collect on Argentinian debt, which he bought after Argentina’s 2001 default. The Washington Post predictably lambasted Kirchner for promoting “anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.” However, other journalists rebuked the Post, writing: “If the Post had ‘followed the money,’ it perhaps would not have been so ‘confused’ by the connections Kirchner highlighted between Singer and those who have attacked her government over its allegedly nefarious relations with Iran.”
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, a presumptive contender for the 2016 Republican presidential candidacy, has been emphatic in his support of his brother’s presidency. Asked by Fox pundit Megyn Kelly if he would have authorized the Iraq War “knowing what we know now,” Bush replied: “I would have [authorized the invasion], and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody. And so would almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got.” Quipped conservative commentator Laura Ingram: “We can’t stay in this re-litigating the Bush years again. You have to have someone who says look I’m a Republican, but I’m not stupid.”
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