Commentary

Four More Years of Bibi: What Happens Now?

Middle East In Focus

Middle East Policy Council

Following the unexpected turnaround in the Likud Party’s electoral fortunes and what looks like yet another term for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, many have wondered whether much will change in Israeli politics and in the region. On the one hand, there is a widespread sense in both Israel and abroad that a Netanyahu government will continue its policy of confrontation and disengagement from the peace process. On the other hand, some have suggested that Mr. Netanyahu’s ruling out of a Palestinian state has revealed his true colors, which could bring further isolation and international pressure against the state of Israel, ultimately leading to the creation of a Palestinian state.

While grudgingly acknowledging Mr. Netanyahu’s political skills, Yedioth Ahronoth’s Sima Kadmon laments the fact that the Likud victory benefits only the prime minister’s political career, but spells trouble for the rest of the country: “Let's not be confused: This isn't the Likud's victory. This is the victory of one man, perhaps the best campaigner of all times, who managed within three days to tip the scales from a negative momentum for his party to a wild victory....He did it by using lies, throwing false accusations at his rivals, lashing out at the media and inciting....All the compliments to Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog for his achievement can’t erase the simple fact that the way things look now, Israel got Netanyahu for four more years. If on Tuesday morning there was still a feeling of a political turnover, in the night we realized that things will remain the same. Israel is entering another era of the Netanyahu family in the house on Balfour Street, with all that it implies.”

The same Israeli daily’s editorial staff seems to share that opinion, fearing that Israel’s future is likely to be one of conflict and confrontation with its neighbors and especially its allies, while bringing into question the electoral system that makes such outcomes possible: “Benjamin Netanyahu's apparent reelection puts Israel on a course toward ever deeper confrontation with the world....Meanwhile, the political system has fragmented in ways that align with Israel's internal divisions. So there are parties for Russian immigrants, Sephardic Jews, different types of religious Jews, secular and progressive citizens, the European-oriented middle class, and a new union of Israeli Arab parties that individually are nationalist, Islamic or socialist. Only one thing seems certain: Pressure to overhaul the electoral system that has yielded such chaos will grow.”

Surprisingly, even the reliably right-leaning Jerusalem Post has been unable to offer a hopeful take on the electoral outcome. One of its contributors, Gershon Baskin, is concerned about what lies ahead for Israel, including the likely further deterioration of Israel’s relationship with the United States: “Israel is now firmly on the road to almost total international isolation. Israel is now going to find itself in deep conflict with 21 percent of its citizens — the Palestinian Arab minority who despite their own victory in the polls will face the most racist, anti-Arab government Israel has ever had. Israel is on a collision course with the U.S. government and with President Barack Obama and his administration....Good morning, Israel. Israel will not be a better place to live following these elections. But this is what the majority of Israelis voted for and this is what they will get.”

The Jerusalem Post’s editorial staff has a counterintuitive take on the electoral outcome, suggesting that while Mr. Netanyahu might still be the next prime minister, much will be different from the previous government, not all of which will be good: “Though for some time now, successive Israeli government have tended to be decidedly right-wing (this explains Netanyahu’s success in forming the last two governments), on the eve of elections Netanyahu steered his party further to the Right....So, while it may appear that little has changed since the last elections, this is only an illusion. When it is dispelled, it reveals a new, potentially volatile era of deteriorating relations with the U.S. administration, a reversal of positive steps toward the integration of the haredi population into Israeli society, and new attacks on the autonomy of the Supreme Court — not to mention resuming the search for an elusive peace with our neighbors.”

Regional observers have universally condemned the outcome, with the Peninsula’s editorial characterizing it as the “victory of a tyrant…. The results send several messages and have huge consequences. First of all, it shows the radicalization of the Israeli society and their significant turn to the right. It seems a majority of Israelis share Netanyahu’s view about Palestinians. The right-wing leader has built his fortunes on the sole issue of security as his government was a complete failure in improving the lives of ordinary people and in ensuring economic equality....Netanyahu is an epitome of everything negative in Israeli politics and society and the fact that Israelis have embraced him shows he has been able to brainwash them. He specializes in politics of fear. He used a 28-second video on the election day to warn that Israeli Arabs were voting in droves and his incendiary remarks were nothing but racism.”

The Gulf Times editorial, on the other hand, comments on the implications of Mr. Netanyahu’s electoral victory, concerned that it might very well spell the end of the peace process with the Palestinians: “Pre-poll sentiment indicated Netanyahu would struggle to retain power, but towards the final leg of campaigning he ratcheted up his rhetoric with the stunning declaration that the Palestinians will never have a state of their own as long as he is in power. The fact that it swung the vote in his favour itself speaks volumes of the difficulties genuine peacemakers will have to endure, besides dealing somewhat of a death blow to the hopes and dreams of the Palestinians.  A Palestinian state was the foundation of Middle Eastern peacemaking efforts for several years, but by abandoning it in one opportunistic masterstroke, Netanyahu has proven that nothing matters more to him than power which, tragically, he can only have by warmongering....Palestinians can expect more invasions, assassinations and general mayhem over the next few years. The tragedy is, nothing has ever changed for them.”

Netanyahu’s election appears to be bad news for the region too. At least that is the main message coming from a recent Khaleej Times editorial, noting that there can be no end to extremism without a satisfactory resolution to the two state solution: “The fact that the ruling Likud party managed to defeat the Zionist Union, which is otherwise considered as a more ideologue platform in the Jewish state, speaks high of realpolitik at work....In an era when the region is heading towards civil wars with the rise of Daesh, Netanyahu’s self-serving policies will add to the problems. The Arab states and the international community have always maintained the position that creation of an independent state in Palestine is indispensable and will take out steam from the unrest that is going around the globe in the form of extremism. The disgust against the West, which is quite popular these days in the Muslim world, can better be addressed by realising the two-state solution. The hawkish Israeli leader can hardly voice a valid argument against this proposition.”

It is no secret that Mr. Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama have had a rocky relationship during the last six years, but Al Arabiya’s Joyce Karam suspects that relationship is about to deteriorate even further: “Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s unexpected win this week, adding 12 new seats to the Likud party in the Knesset and in the process securing himself another term, is a blessing for some and a nightmare for others outside Israel....Netanyahu’s win seals the fate of the peace process, rendering it completely hopeless in the hands of a potential Israeli right and nationalist coalition....With Israel’s election results, a strengthened Netanyahu is a thorn in Obama’s side, and a loss for the administration on the peace process front as well as a vis-ŕ-vis with the Republican Congress. If ‘chickenshit’ and ‘spat in our face’ accusations between Obama and Bibi are any indication of what is next, settling scores and confrontation will likely replace the testy coexistence of the last six years.”
In the closing days of his electoral campaign, Mr. Netanyahu publicly abandoned the two-state solution. He has since tried to distance himself from that position, but few take the prime minister at his word. The question, asks the Saudi Gazette editorial, is what will the United States do now that the Mr. Netanyahu has retained his position: “The victory of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party has slammed the door on a Palestinian settlement and opened the way for yet more instability in an already deeply unstable Middle East.... the Europeans and the Americans need to review their slavish indulgence of his policies which, from the start, have been designed to frustrate a genuine end to Palestine’s agony through the creation of a viable two-state solution....The key of course is going to be the response of President Obama to Netanyahu’s win. Has he the strength, the will and indeed the time to use the lever of U.S. military and financial support to force Netanyahu to change tack?  The chances have to be that he has not.”

There appears to be a silver lining amidst all this pessimism. As the National’s editorial staff suggests, these elections saw the various Arab Israeli parties run as a “joint list,” signaling the possibility of further cooperation in the future. Moreover, Mr. Netanyahu’s public admission of his opposition to a future Palestinian state will make it easier to rally international pressure against the Israeli government: “In the midst of this gloomy reality check about Israel’s real attitude towards peace, there was one extraordinarily bright spot. The Joint List, representing all of the Palestinian parties in the Knesset, registered a resounding 14 seats and third place in the election. The rhetoric of Palestinian unity has been translated into reality and the consequences for Israel’s Palestinian citizens will be historic, given their new access to the levers of power....This unity must spread to the West Bank and Gaza. Given Mr Netanyahu’s acceleration of Israel’s isolation in the international community through his rejection of Palestinian statehood, a unified force of Hamas and Fatah would have greater lobbying power with the international community to force Israel to change its behaviour and to bolster the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement....Now that the mask has finally come off in Tel Aviv, pressure must come on Israel to compel it to make a genuine attempt to end the occupation.”


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