The polls in the run-up to Israel’s recent elections got it dramatically wrong, as did every exit poll that placed Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party neck-and-neck with the left-leaning Zionist Union headed by Isaac Herzog. In the event, much to everyone’s surprise — not least that of Herzog who only discovered his fate when he was woken up in the early morning — Likud was ahead by six seats. Such a great disparity between polling results and the outcome that thrust Netanyahu into a fourth prime ministerial term seems to indicate that whereas a majority of Israelis genuinely seek change, their fears and insecurities inevitably win the day.
That prevailing mindset has been deliberately cultured by the right and religious parties, which resist surrendering an inch of occupied Palestinian land for peace. And it is consolidated by repeated warnings that a new Palestinian state would leave Israel vulnerable to Hamas rocket attacks from the West Bank as well as “terrorist tunnels”. That’s a false premise. Hamas is a resistance organisation that would lose its job description as soon as a Palestinian state came into being, and besides, any agreement would include international guarantees of Israel’s security with the borders secured by a multinational peacekeeping force.
Moreover, were Israel prepared to negotiate with the Arab League based on the terms of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, it could look forward to full diplomatic relations with the Arab World. Israel would benefit from trade deals, tourism, investments and, hard to imagine now, but overtime young Israelis could be spared from mandatory national service. Sound Utopian? Given today’s climate, I would agree. But all it requires is will and courage on the part of the Israeli people which, unfortunately, is sorely lacking. Instead, they hang on to the status quo like survivors of an offshore ferry disaster clutching at flotsam.
Upping Israelis’ reluctance to swap the bombastic leader they know for one with a more compromising stance is Likud’s hysterical hype on Iran as an existential threat to the so-called Jewish state, a reality ignored by the Obama administration now nearing détente with Daesh (the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant). Again, this is little more than false propaganda built around the Sup-reme Guide’s threatening rhetoric that’s designed purely for domestic consumption.
Even if Iran succeeded in developing nuclear weapons, there is nothing to suggest its ruling regime harbours suicidal tendencies. An attack on Israeli territory would elicit retaliation in kind not only from Israel but also from its allies. That’s not to say Iran isn’t a major threat. It certainly is, but not to Israel. Its target is the physical and ideological domination of Sunni Arab states via its proxies.
Tzipi Livni, the Zionist Union’s co-leader, described the result as the “victory of hatred and fear”. More than that, it was the victory of Netanyahu’s overvaulting ambition, ruthlessness and cunning. Watching his office becoming a mirage, he was cornered into showing his true colours to attract votes from the far right wing.
A Palestinian state has never seriously been on Netanyahu’s agenda; he’s done everything to thwart it, including expanding Jewish colonies, while merely going through the motions of US-mediated negotiations. With everything to lose, his messages were: Elect me and there will be no Palestinian state; elect me and I will build thousands of new Jewish homes [colonies] in [occupied] East Jerusalem. “If Livni and Herzog formed the next government, Hamastan would be established here,” he warned. And now that he’s got what he wanted, he’s furiously trying to peddle backwards amid statements from the White House to the effect that Washington may have to “reconsider” its Israel policy. US President Barack Obama waited days before picking up the phone to congratulate Israel’s new/old leader and, according to a report from Israel’s Channel 10 on that call, Obama gave Netanyahu “the impression that he intends to abandon Israel at the United Nations”.
It seems that the White House isn’t buying Netanyahu’s sudden U-turn. Just days after his win he maintained that he still supports a two-state solution. White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters: “The divergent comments of the prime minister legitimately call into question his commitment to this policy principle and his lack of commitment to what has been the foundation of our policymaking in the region.”
In yet another public exhibition of self-interested duplicity, in order to galvanise voters out of the armchairs, Netanyahu resorted to racism. During the afternoon of the ballot, he spammed Israelis with text messages and posts on social media warning that Palestinians in 1948 areas were being bused in to vote for the Joint (Arab) List, an amalgamation of four Arab-Israeli parties. “Arab voters are going en masse to the polls,” he wrote, neglecting the fact that those Arab votes are Israeli citizens, his own citizens.
Israelis have once more chosen regional isolation, international condemnation and the likelihood of potential future conflicts with the Palestinians when they could have opted for peacemakers with fresh new ideas. But with their country’s relationship with the US unravelling, this time — and for the first time ever — Israel could be made to pay a price.
Linda S. Heard is a specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org