Opinion: The Role of the Palestinian Authority in Israel’s Election Results
Those around the world who are upset with Prime Minister’s Benjamin Netanyahu electoral victory over labor should put much of the responsibility for Israel’s rightward turn squarely where it belongs: on the Palestinian Authority.
At least twice over the last 15 years, Israel has offered the Palestinians extraordinarily generous two-state solutions. The first time was in 2000-2001 when Ehud Barak and Bill Clinton offered the Palestinians more than 90 percent of the West Bank and all of the Gaza, with a capital in Jerusalem. Yassir Arafat turned down the offer and started an intifada in which 4,000 people were killed. This self-inflicted wound by the leader of the Palestinian Authority contributed greatly to the weakening of Israel’s peace camp, most particularly of Ehud Barak’s Labor Party. The current Zionist Party, which is an offshoot of Labor, has continued to suffer from that weakening.
Then again in 2007, Ehud Olmert offered the Palestinians an even more generous resolution, to which Mahmoud Abbas failed to respond positively. This failure also contributed to the weakening of the Israeli center left and the strengthening of the right.
Israel is a vibrant democracy, in which people vote their experience, their fear and their hope. In 2000-2001 and 2007, most Israelis had high hopes for a peaceful resolution of the Palestinian conflict. These hopes were dashed by Arafat’s rejection and Abbas’ refusal to accept generous peace offers. It is not surprising therefore that so many Israelis now vote their fear instead of their hope.
The Obama administration also contributed to the election results in Israel by refusing to listen to Israeli concerns—concerns shared by Israelis of every political stripe—about the impending deal with Iran. Many Israelis have given up any hope of influencing the Obama administration to demand more from the Iranians. The current deal contains a sunset provision, which all but guarantees that Iran will have nuclear weapons within a decade. Isaac Herzog made a serious mistake when he said he trusted President Obama to make a good deal with the Iranians. Few Israelis share that trust as do few members of Congress, and few Sunni Arab governments. That lack of trust was reflected in voting for a prime minister who has been more confrontational and less trusting.
If Israelis voted their fears, these were not entirely irrational fears, they were based on the history of the region.
The international community, academics and the media tend to have short memories. They will blame the Netanyahu, and especially his campaign rhetoric, for a result of which they disapprove. But Netanyahu’s rhetoric found a receptive audience because many Israeli voters have long memories. They remember what the leaders of the Palestinian Authority, the Obama administration, the Iranian mullahs and the United Nations have done and said with regard to Israel. They remember the lethal responses to earlier peace offers.
So let’s not look at a snapshot of these election results. Instead let’s look at a videotape of the last 15 years in order to understand how Israel’s democracy produced the current election results.
Only time will tell whether these results will engender a better resolution of the Iranian threat, the Palestinian stalemate and other issues of concern to the world. But history has shown that positive results can never be achieved by directing pressure unilaterally at the Israeli government, and not at the Palestinian Authority, the Iranian mullahs, the Obama administration and the international community.
Already, the spokespersons for the Palestinian Authority have predicted that the reelection of Netanyahu marks the end of any realistic peace process, without reminding their listeners of how Palestinian intransigence marked the end of earlier peace processes and impacted this election. They are once again threatening to bring their grievances to the International Criminal Court and other international institutions, which would surely be a setback to any realistic prospects for a resolution.
So instead of casting the blame on Netanyahu and the Israeli right-wing for all the problems of the Middle East, let all sides look at themselves in the mirror of reality and decide how they can contribute to making the world a safer place by preventing Iran from ever obtaining a nuclear arsenal, and by encouraging a compromise resolution of the Palestinian issue that protects Israel’s security while providing the Palestinians with a viable, demilitarized state.