Israel’s elections have produced one winner and many losers which may, ultimately, include the people of Israel themselves, writes Abdel Bari Atwan.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s last-minute shift to hard-right secured him the victory that was very much in doubt until a few days previously.
As his supporters celebrated they chanted “he is a magician”. The two magical spells he cast over the electorate were: “No” to an independent Palestinian state and “Yes” to continuing the illegal colony building programme.
Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak once boasted that he had unmasked late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat; now Netanyahu has unmasked himself as an overt racist and peace rejectionist. In an effort to bring more Jewish citizens to the ballot boxes, “Bibi” warned of hordes of Palestinians of the 1948 areas being “bussed in” by the Left to vote. Imagine if a western leader spoke of African or Asian heritage voters in such terms!
This victory demonstrates how far to the right the Israeli population has travelled. There was a 72 per cent voter turnout and Netanyahu’s Likud won 30 seats in the Knesset on an anti-Arab platform that has dealt a final death blow to the peace process. His likely partners in the coalition he will have to form to govern are just as radical: The colonists’ Jewish Home party, foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu, and a handful of other ultra-orthodox parties.
Politics of fear
Netanyahu based his campaign on the politics of fear, appealing to the growing sense of vulnerability among the Israeli populace, and positing himself as its gung-ho defender. He threatened Hezbollah with the same pounding the Israeli army regularly inflicts on Gaza and hyperbolised the threat to Israel from Islamic extremism and Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
When he addressed the US Congress on March 3, at the invitation of the Republican party, Netanyahu mounted a clear challenge to President Barack Obama (who did not attend) and made the outcome of the Israeli election personal.
Mounting antipathy between the two men has always been apparent, stemming from the Israeli leader’s stubborn intransigence during peace process negotiations. Obama’s carefully prepared foundations for the P5+1 (US, Britain, France, Russia, China plus Germany) deal with Iran over its nuclear programme were dealt a heavy blow when Netanyahu imperiously informed the assembly that “it’s a very bad deal. We’re better off without it’.
The Obama administration supported the centre-left Zionist Union and hoped it would force Netanyahu from office, ushering in new possibilities for the peace process; instead Washington’s doves and the president’s pride will be among the casualties of the Israeli hawk’s savage return.
The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) leader Mahmoud Abbas is also wounded, perhaps fatally, by Netanyahu’s victory. His role in the now-defunct peace process afforded him some semblance of credibility, even though his mandate officially expired in 2009.
By withholding some $127 million (Dh467 million) in taxes due to the PNA, Netanyahu is already starving it of oxygen and thousands of its workers are going without pay. The freeze was imposed in retaliation for the PNA signing up to the International Criminal Court last December and for its declared intention to bring charges against the Israeli state.
The PNA also passed a resolution to cease all security co-ordination with Israel; Abbas had delayed implementing this, believing that the left wing would prevail in the Israeli elections … if he now goes ahead, the PNA risks being dismantled by the vengeful Netanyahu.
The so-called “moderate Arab bloc” will face drastic new challenges. The anticipated left-wing coalition in Tel Aviv would have enabled them to get behind the peace process; now there is nothing but confrontation or surrender. The Arab League’s annual summit, which will take place in Egypt’s Sharm Al Shaikh at the end of this month, will likely see moderation transformed into anger against Israel.
The West — Washington and the European Union — is similarly stranded by Netanyahu’s destructive stance, having put all its hopes and efforts into the peace process for many years. Without it, there is no apparatus for the international community to broker justice for the Palestinians.
It is interesting to note that former British premier Tony Blair began to leak his imminent resignation as Middle East peace envoy at the same time as Netanyahu declared the full extent of his radical stance, suggesting that Blair knew what was coming and wanted to avoid being forced to challenge or criticise the Israeli leader whose world view he largely shares.
Israel’s re-election of Netanyahu is accompanied by so many risks that it is almost self-destructive. At a time when the Middle East is being torn apart by sectarian conflict, Netanyahu emphasises the religious aspect of his political vision and calls for Israel to be rebranded a “Jewish State”.
Do the Israelis really want to buy into a paradigm that ultimately pits the “Jewish State” against that most ferocious new beast, Daesh (self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant)? Will Netanyahu lead his people to stand alone against the US and Europe on Palestine and Iran?
Do the Israelis want to provoke an escalation of the already powerful boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement? And do they want to alienate their most important allies in western capitals — the governments that guarantee Israel’s security in an immensely hostile geo-political environment?
These questions hang over the pro-Netanyahu celebrations in Israel’s towns and cities. The answers may force them to think again.