Netanyahu’s Likely Reelection as Israeli Prime Minister Means No Palestinian State

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's all-but-declared victory means Israel is moving in a hawkish direction, and away from Obama's pandering toward Iran.

By Rachel Alexander Published on March 18, 2015

The Israeli election went down to the wire right until after voting had closed, with right-leaning incumbent Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu’s Likud Party virtually tied in exit polls against his top challenger. Labor’s Isaac Herzog ran against him on a center-left slate with Tziporah “Tzipi” Livni of the Hatnuah Party, in a coalition known as The Zionist Union. Similar to past elections, the elections were a referendum on whether to go with the hawkish approach of Netanyahu, or to go with a more dovish position. 

Israelis voted for 120 members of Knesset, its parliament, in a system where the leading coalition essentially picks the prime minister. Several hours after the polls closed, it appeared virtually certain from exit polls and partial polling that Netanyahu’s Likud had prevailed. There were still votes outstanding that had been collected earlier, from soldiers, prisoners and diplomats, which collectively have leaned to the right. Netanyahu claimed victory, as the votes continued to come in favoring him.

Polling last week had put Netanyahu’s Likud Party slightly trailing The Zionist Union. Herzog received powerful endorsements from two former prime ministers, Ehud Barak and Shimon Peres. Seeing what he was up against, Netanyahu likely tipped the election at the last minute with some strong statements against the formation of a Palestinian state, in an appeal to the right.

On Monday, he said that withdrawing from the occupied areas of Gaza and the West Bank to create a Palestinian state would allow the territory to be taken over by Islamic extremists. He warned that the Zionist Union would withdraw from the territories.  After he voted on Tuesday, he declared that any state established alongside Israel would “attack us with rockets … Who wants such a thing?” He also warned of a “left-wing government” coming to power and an international conspiracy funded by wealthy foreigners to oust him.

Netanyahu suggested that Barak and Herzog are joining again like their parties did in 1999 to bring about concessions withdrawals and dividing Jerusalem:

“The last time they brought about the second Intifada and buses blowing up in the heart of our cities. This time, they “are again using left-wing organizations with millions of dollars flowing from abroad in order to bring up the Arab vote turnout. The only way to stop it is by having more votes to Likud.”

Netanyahu’s desertion of support for a Palestinian state marked a stunning turnaround from 2009, when he returned to office as prime minister after a decade away and called for Palestinian independence in a speech. Since then, he has expanded Jewish settlements.

Netanyahu’s likely victory signals a defeat for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who had made the creation of a Palestinian state a core of his platform. This election means his strategy has failed, and he will either need to back off from insisting on a Palestinian state or risk a more confrontational relationship with Israel.

It also spells trouble for President Obama. Obama had pressed Netanyahu to engage in peace talks with Abbas, and most recently crossed Netanyahu with his peace talks with Iran. In Netanyahu’s speech to the U.S. Congress earlier this month, he slammed the forthcoming nuclear deal between Iran and the six world powers, saying it “paves Iran’s path to the bomb.” Obama would have been more at ease with a center-left coalition in power.

Perhaps most importantly, Netanyahu’s victory means there is no hope of a separate Palestinian state anytime soon. Despite talks of a Palestinian state for many years by various parties and factions, Israel appears no closer to supporting one than it did 50 years ago.

The Zionist Union’s message failed. The coalition, whose name was chosen to reflect the party’s nationalism, had criticized Netanyahu for perceived income inequality and Israel’s high cost of living. Herzog pledged to reduce the income gap, renew peace talks with the Palestinians and repair relations with Obama.

Netanyahu’s coalition included the Likud, the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home, which also opposes a Palestinian state, Yisrael Beytenu, the centrist Kulanu and the ultra-Orthodox parties. Together, that gives him 63 votes in Knesset, a majority. He does not need to form a unity government with any of the other parties.

The elections were prompted by Netanyahu’s inability to maintain a coalition in parliament. Three months ago, he fearlessly called for new elections. After Israel’s 50-day summer war in Gaza, his approval rating was fairly high. Netanyahu was running for his fourth term, which will be his third consecutive term.

 

ELECTION RESULTS: http://www.nytimes.com/live/israel-elections-vote-results/

 

 

 

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