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.
Paul Wolfowitz, the controversial former World Bank chief and Pentagon official who was instrumental in pushing the 2003 decision to oust Saddam Hussein, now claims that the success of “Islamic State” demonstrates why it was necessary to invade Iraq. Quipped one commentator: “What’s amazing about this is the extent to which Wolfowitz is treated as a serious interlocutor. It’s as if his history never happened, and he were just another pundit with another perspective.”
Joshua Muravchik is a long-standing proponent of interventionist U.S. foreign policies who has played an important role in shaping neoconservative ideology. Affiliated with numerous neoconservative political pressure groups—including the American Enterprise Institute, the Project of the New American Century, and the Washington Institute for Near East Affairs—Muravchik has been unabashed in his lopsided support of Israel. During the 2014 Gaza War, for instance, he criticized Human Rights Watch for documenting Israeli abuses, accusing the group of pursuing “a relentless campaign against the Jewish state.”
David Wurmser, a neoconservative ideologue who served as Mideast adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney and now promotes Israeli natural gas interests, recently called on the Obama administration to use a “hammer” in its response to Russia’s moves in the Ukraine. He also recently revealed that Karl Rove was behind the covering up of abandoned chemical weapons shells, which were originally discovered in Iraq in 2004. The shells—which caused serious injuries amongst U.S. troops at the time—were leftover chemical weapons produced by Iraq with Western support and used during the Iran-Iraq War.
Marc Thiessen is a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush and currently a Washington Post columnist and American Enterprise Institute visiting fellow. Known for his defense of controversial U.S. security and defense policies—including “enhanced interrogation techniques”—Theissen recently joined the neoconservative chorus calling for U.S. ground forces to be sent into Syria and Iraq to fight ISIS. Thiessen has also attempted to whip up fear about the Ebola crisis, arguing that “Suicide bombers infected with Ebola could blow themselves up in a crowded place … spreading infected tissue and bodily fluids.”
Joe Lieberman, the Democrat-turned-Independent from Connecticut who retired from the Senate in 2013, has long been a strong advocate for neoconservative causes. Since leaving the Senate, Lieberman has begun doing what he explicitly promised he would never do—lobby. Lieberman has also heaped criticism on the Obama administration in recent times for purportedly sending a message to “our allies and our enemies that we’re not that engaged in the world anymore” and that the world “seems to be going to hell.” Regarding the recent Gaza War, Lieberman claimed, “I think the Israelis feel, and a lot of pro-Israel Americans feel, that the administration has not seemed to be totally with Israel.”
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