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.
The Republican Jewish Coalition, the hardline “pro-Israel” lobbying outfit supported by Sheldon Adelson, has vocally promoted efforts by Congress to derail U.S.-led negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. With a view to the next presidential election, RJC’s executive director Matthew Brooks recently attacked Hillary Clinton’s stance on Iran: “For four years Hillary Clinton proved to the world that her foreign policy judgment and skills are clearly lacking. Now, former Secretary Clinton fails to realize that after exhaustive negotiations with Iran, rewarding them with more time is a catalyst to empower and embolden the Iranian regime further.”
Michael Gerson, the conservative op-ed columnist for the Washington Post and former Bush speechwriter, has pushed for a more aggressive stance from President Obama on foreign policy, lambasting Obama’s purported “lead from behind” doctrine in a recent op-ed. “Recent history yields one interpretation,” wrote Gerson. “If the United States does not lead the global war on terrorism, the war will not be led. But still [Obama] refuses to broaden his conception of the U.S. role in the Middle East.”
Fred Hiatt, the Washington Post’s editorial page editor, has a record of promoting hawkish U.S. defense policies and has been described as having a “near-neocon position on foreign policy.” Not surprisingly, the Washington Post editorial page recently come out in support of efforts by the newly sworn in Republican Senate to impose additional sanctions on Iran. In a rebuttal to the Post editorial, one journalist stated: “[T]he editorial board ought to come out and say it if they don’t think the Iranians’ threat to back out of talks is serious—and then lay out all the attendant risks of calling their bluff.”
A controversial activist group closely connected to anti-Islamic and “pro-Israel” political factions, the Clarion Project has released numerous films and publications that attack “radical Islam” and call into question the trustworthiness of Muslims. Clarion’s latest film, Honor Diaries, purports to depict the “issues facing women in Muslim-majority societies.” The film has been denounced by Muslim organizations, with one commentator describing it as a “reminder that the age of pre-packaged, documentary-style propaganda, meant to influence behavior and opinion against ‘them’, is far from over.”
Ryan Mauro is a national security analyst with the controversial “pro-Israel” propaganda outfit the Clarion Project. Mauro has become a frequent guest on Fox News, where he pushes sensationalist stories about Muslim groups in the United States. According to Media Matters, Mauro has claimed that “Muslim patrols” are a “growing security concern for the United States,” that refugees from Somalia are “becoming ‘homegrown’ terrorists,” and that Islamist groups are creating “Muslim enclaves” in the United States. Mauro has even argued that the evidence of “Islamist Muslim Brotherhood influence at the highest ranks of the Republican Party’s apparatus is overwhelming.”
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