Two weeks ago, Israel hosted elections for the 20th Kensset and current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party won with 23.4% of the popular vote, allowing him to continue his reign as Prime Minister, a post that he has held in since 2009. This was surprising to some because Netanyahu has been headlining the media recently with some provocative political behavior. At the beginning of March, he addressed the US Congress, making his best efforts to deter President Obama from a nuclear arms agreement with Iran. In addition, Netanyahu was quoted as saying that as long as he was Prime Minister, there would not be a “two state solution” to the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So with Netanyahu’s re-election in the often volatile Israeli parliament, what does this mean for Israel? For global politics? And for the never ending Israeli Palestinian Conflict?
With Netanyahu still at the helm, anything different from Israeli policy cannot be expected. “Bibi” (as Netanyahu is affectionally known) will continue to lead Israel further into isolation through his refusal to accept any two-state solution, his current rift with President Obama, and his blatantly racist attitude towards Arabs within and surrounding the boarders of Israel. This is possibly the worst outcome for Israel from this election. Netanyahu’s polarizing leadership and policies have led Israel down this path of isolation in both the Western and Arab world– a path that seems as though it will continue as long as Netanyahu is the leader. Unless Netanyahu throws in some weight behind his recent remarks following his re-election of peace and harmony in the Middle East, many tough times lay ahead for the state.
From the results of this most recent election, what can we concur about the people of Israel? Winning the most votes does not automatically make most Israeli citizens supporters of Netanyahu’s policies. In fact, 76.6% of Israelis who cast a ballot did not vote for Netanyahu, winning 30 out of a possible 120 seats. These statistics show Bibi is far from creating a government with the majority of votes, signalling that even though Netanyahu received the most votes, he does not by any means have the majority of the popular support of the Israeli people. Between the elections of 2013 and 2015, Netanyahu’s support has stayed virtually the same, with a 2% increase in popular vote since he first became PM in 2009. However, over 28% of the vote from this election went to both the Zionist Party and Joint party, both of whom are more left-wing in their policies and friendly toward the idea of a two state solution with Palestine. This may signal a left-wing shift amongst the people of Israel in hopes of changing issues such as the conflict with Palestine, the economy, and the gap between the rich and the poor, but only time will tell.
This election has a significant effect on world politics as well. It is likely that Arab leaders’ attitudes toward Israel is certainly not going to change with the re-election of Netanyahu. As long as Netanyahu continues his discrimination against the Arab people of Israel and Palestine, it is unlikely that Arab leaders will support a state that discriminates against their people. Since the creation of Israel by the UN in 1948, the relationship between the “state” of Palestine and Israel has been one of constant war and bloodshed for control over the area. The United States has been a long standing supporter of Israel, but with recent comments made by Bibi, including warning Israelites that Arabs were going to the polls in droves, President Obama has started to see the Israeli leader in a different light. With news of Netanyahu’s re-election, the White House issued a statement that they would have to re-evaluate their policy towards Palestine and Israel. This is a pretty ambiguous statement, and likely not one in Israel’s favour. It seems as though Netanyahu’s policies are beginning to run thin with the Obama Administration, who see associating the United States with Netanyahu’s aggression against Palestine and his racism against Arabs as less than desirable. President Obama was also not too pleased with Bibi addressing congress with a few weeks to go until the Israeli election, which is generally a frowned upon action by any political figure up for re-election. The United States remains Israel’s chief ally in the Western world, supplying Israel with foodstuffs, money, and arms for the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) to use against Hamas in the West Bank. If Netanyahu’s policies have caused President Obama to indeed change his attitude towards Israel, and facilitate less of a cordial relationship, this could have a significant impact on Israel’s aggression and defence against Palestine. Only time will tell how this shift will affect the relationship between Israel and its neighbours. Obama will be leaving the White House in January 2017, leaving room for the initiation of a different policy towards Israel in the next few years.
Given the potential for a complete shift in the dynamics of Israel’s relationship with Western powers, the re-election of Benjamin Netanyahu as the Israeli Prime Minister may prove to be the most crucial election in Israel’s history since the election of the first Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Guiron in 1949. There are many different political and economic elements at play, making this a volatile political situation for many different countries around the world. Ultimately, going forward will depend Netanyahu. If he continues his current conservative policies, it is doubtful that Israel will continue to receive the same support from the West, and that the people will continue to support Netanyahu himself. However, if he does change his policies to a more leftist standpoint, including beginning negotiations with Palestine, then positive effects for Netanyahu and Israel are more likely to come in the future.
CC Photography courtesy of Flickr user Israel Defense Forces