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The Stakes Have Never Been Higher in Israel’s Elections

07 Aug 2019
By Dr Alon Ben-Meir and Shabtai Shavi
Members of the Israeli Defense Forces voting during an election. Source: Flickr, Israel Defense Forces

Israel faces critical crossroads in its upcoming elections and the stakes have never been higher. 

This September, Israel will have its second parliamentary election in the span of five months. Most national security experts, politically-savvy individuals and academics suggest that this election may well be the most critical since the year 2000. Since that time, the geopolitics and regional security have changed dramatically. This could either lead to regional conflagration or peace and largely depends on who the next Israeli prime minister will be and the general political leaning of the new government.

There is a growing consensus among Israelis that if Prime Minister Netanyahu forms the next government, Israel will lose a historic opportunity to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

The question is, how to deprive Netanyahu and his Likud party of winning a relative majority that will allow him to form the next right-wing government: a government which would dangerously escalate regional tensions and forfeit any prospect of an Israeli-Palestinian peace for the foreseeable future.

The Karol Lavan, the Blue and White Party led by Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, could defeat the Likud Party if it puts the the country’s national interests first. This would involve ending their personal squabbles, articulating a unity of purpose and focusing only on national security, where they have an overwhelming advantage over Netanyahu. 

Netanyahu, who is now the longest-serving prime minister since the founding of the state, has skilfully made his name synonymous with Israel’s national security. It is true that he has contributed to making Israel a regional power but has failed to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace, which would provide the ultimate security for the state. Instead, he has resorted to fear-mongering, persuaded a majority of Israelis that the Palestinians cannot be trusted and that a Palestinian state would pose the greatest menace to Israel’s long-term national security.

Now, Netanyahu is running again using the same sinister technique of fear-mongering, presenting himself as “Mister Security” who can solely save the country from a perilous future. After serving 11 consecutive years as prime minister, Netanyahu has become ever more power-hungry and corrupt. He faces possible charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in connection to three cases. He is now fighting for his political life, hoping that his re-election will spare him from facing up to 10 years in jail if convicted.

As such, Netanyahu has now become a greater liability than an asset to Israel’s security. His vow to never allow the establishment of a Palestinian state and his lean toward the annexation of the West Bank will render Israel nothing short of a garrison and apartheid state living by the gun.

This is particularly worrisome at a time when the Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, have openly allied themselves with Israel against their common enemies — Iran and Global Jihad/Radical Islam — and clearly indicated their willingness to forge peace with Israel, once an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement is achieved.

Kahol Lavan must now seize the unprecedented opportunity to deny Netanyahu another term by assuming the mantra of national security. They should dramatically change Israel’s trajectory toward peace with the Palestinians, even though they are avoiding speaking about a two-state solution which most of them privately embrace, provided that Israel’s security is not compromised now or at any time in the future.

Although Israel can militarily defeat any country or a combination of countries in the region, Israeli politicians have legitimate reasons to be concerned about its national security, as it is embedded in the psyche of every Israeli. These concerns can be traced back to the Holocaust, decades of enmity from the Arab states, Iran and Hezbollah and Hamas’ continuing existential threats, terrorism and future uncertainty given the region’s instability and power rivalries.

Lieutenant General Gantz and his colleagues, former defense minister and Lieutenant General Moshe Ya’alon and Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi have the credentials and enjoy tremendous credibility in safeguarding the country’s national security. By embracing national security, they entertain unquestionable superiority in matters of security over Netanyahu, which is a prerequisite to any peace.

What is critically important, however, is that Israel’s ultimate national security rests on a permanent peace with the Palestinians. In any peace talks, they will insist that every measure must be taken to ensure the security of the state, without compromising the establishment of an independent Palestinian state that fully cooperates with Israel on all security matters.

The shifting political dynamic in the region, in addition to Egypt and Jordan’s peace with Israel, is that the majority of the Sunni Arab states recognise that Israel is the region’s superpower, with the most advanced technology, which these states desire. But above all, Israel’s military prowess provides the ultimate shield to protect them from Shiite Iran.

To be sure, Israel faces a critical crossroad and the stakes have never been higher. The leaders of Kahol Lavan stand an excellent chance to garner a relative majority and form a new coalition government with the centre and left-of-centre parties.

According to almost all polls, a majority of Israelis fully support the two-state solution. They want to be assured, however, that the state’s security will not be compromised with the creation of a Palestinian state but rather enhanced, especially if an Israeli-Palestinian peace is achieved in the context of a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace, as part of the new Middle East which is being built in front of our eyes.

Kahol Lavan, together with a block of the center-left parties, have a historic opportunity to realize it.

Shabtai Shavit is a former director of Mossad.

Dr Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.

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