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Netanyahu’s Election Win Will Change the Face of Israel

11 Apr 2019
By Dr Alon Ben-Meir
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's will form a governing coalition and serve a fifth term after his Likud Party won 35 seats in the Knesset on 9 April 2019. Photo: Jack Zalium, Flickr

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud Party secured enough seats in the Israeli elections on 9 April to form a governing coalition. With Netanyahu returning for a fifth term, there will be decisive consequences for the future of Israel.

The result of the Israeli election has demonstrated that the Israeli public’s movement to the right is now consolidated and its prospective reversal to the centre or left-of-centre is becoming increasingly unlikely. This outcome should give serious pause to every Jew and friend of Israel, as the consequences for Israel’s future will be extremely dire. It will allow the newly-expected right-wing government led by incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take any measure of their choosing to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, further destroy Israel’s democratic and Jewish foundation and put the country on the fast track to self-destruction, obliterating the face of Israel as we know it.

To begin with, there has been continuing, steady and nearly unequivocal support by the United States for successive governments throughout Israel’s existence. The US enablement of Israel, specifically over the last few decades, has allowed centrist and right-wing governments to undertake policies – in particular, the building of new settlements and the expansion of existing ones – that run contrary to any prospective Israeli-Palestinian peace based on a two-state solution. In this regard, President Donald Trump’s open-ended support of the Netanyahu government has severely and perilously undermined Israel’s future security and well-being, which ironically the Trump administration wants to shield.

Second, as the Palestinian extremists continue to play into the hands of the Israeli right-of-centre, it has made it easier for the leaders of the right to make a strong case against the Palestinians and justify the enforcement of discriminatory policies and the occupation. The building of settlements and the imposition of a massive security apparatus that extends throughout the West Bank and Gaza further diminishes the potential for an independent Palestinian state with a contiguous land mass.

Third, the Israelis have developed a siege-like mentality from their historical perspective, as well as from their experience with the Palestinians (especially following the Second Intifada in 2000). As a result, Israel has become increasingly self-reliant in national security matters and suspicious of the Palestinians and the international community as a whole. As such, Israel’s use of excessive military power to quell Palestinian resistance has become routine, and applying harsh measures against the Palestinians in the occupied territories to keep them at bay the norm.

The fourth reason concerns national security. Israel undoubtedly is the superpower in the region, and there’s not a single country or combination of countries that can overwhelm it militarily, neither now or in the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, Israelis feel vulnerable and insecure. This means national security will be a central theme in any future relations with the Palestinians, which of necessity constrains the extent of concessions the Israelis will make under any peace consideration.

Fifth, is the growing, if not decisive, political strength of the settlers, who are now in a strategic position. The settlers, represented by various right-wing parties including Likud, have secure representation, both in the Knesset and the government. No Israeli government would dare to evacuate any significant number of settlers without provoking a major political crisis, and even violent resistance that will tear the country apart.

Sixth, there is a near constant schism between secular Jews and the Orthodox community, which has further diluted the prospect of unity among the Israelis themselves. Moreover, since no single party has been able to acquire an absolute majority, elections always lead to a coalition government, which of necessity has to compromise on significant issues, but perhaps not security. As a result, the discord between the coalition partners to agree on a long-term solution to the conflict with the Palestinians remains on the back burner, which makes the conflict more complicated and intractable.

The consequences of this election, and the certainty of the formation of a right-wing government led by Netanyahu, are hard to exaggerate. To start with, if there had been any small prospect of a two-state solution, it has now completely vanished. This, in and of itself, will further galvanize Palestinian extremism, which undoubtedly will lead to more frequent violence that has the potential to fuel long-term bloodshed between the two sides.

Mr Netanyahu and his partners will now have a freer hand to act as they already have been. They will work to diminish the role of the judiciary; to violate international conventions, specifically in regards to the occupied territories; to implement far harsher methods to solidify the occupation; and open the door for further annexation of significant parts of the West Bank, as Netanyahu promised to do if he was re-elected. There is no doubt that the coalition, regardless of political differences, will stick together to create new, irreversible facts on the ground that will bury the prospect of a two-state solution.

Additionally, the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights by Trump has rendered a major blow to the prospect of a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace. Sadly, whereas most of the Arab countries were edging ever closer to Israel in recent years because of their common enemy in Iran, the result of these elections will certainly deter further improvement of relations between Israel and Arab states, and Israel’s regional isolation will only escalate.

Moreover, Israel’s very democracy, which has for the past few years been teetering on the edge, is now poised to fall. Last summer’s Basic Law formally declared Israel to be the nation-state of the Jewish people, which is outright discrimination against Israeli Arabs and other non-Jewish minorities. The boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement and other punitive measures against Israel will become a common cause supported by an increasing number of countries around the world.

Furthermore, the discord between American Jews, in particular, and Israel will be far more intense, which will have major repercussions on Jewish unity as the ideological gap between the two sides will only deepen. Diaspora Jewry near-unanimously supports a two-state solution, which they view as the ultimate outcome that provides Israel with security and preserves its Jewish majority and democratic nature.

To be sure, Israel will become a de facto apartheid state as it continues to apply different laws to Israelis living within Israel and the settlements and a different set of occupation laws to govern the Palestinians, which limit their political freedom and narrow their basic civil rights.

Unlike any previous right-wing Israeli government, the formation of a new government under Netanyahu may well be the most decisive and consequential for Israel as we know it. This is nothing short of a turning point in Israel’s history as its reactionary, zealous and extreme right-wing leaders choose more territory over the future security and prosperity of Israel, forfeiting its democracy and shattering the centuries-old dream of the Jews to establish an independent, free, secure home where they can live in peace.

It is a choice that has put Israel on the fast track towards the abyss.

Dr Alon Ben-Meir is a professor and senior fellow at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs and senior fellow at the World Policy Institute. Dr Ben-Meir is an expert in Middle East politics and affairs, specializing in international negotiations and conflict resolution. In the past two decades, Ben-Meir has been directly involved in various negotiations between Israel and its neighboring countries and Turkey.

This article is published under a Creative Commons License and may be republished with attribution.