Netanyahu Delivers for Israel, Israel Delivers for Netanyahu
After general elections in Israel on Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now headed for a historic fifth term.
It’s a strong victory for Netanyahu in more ways than one. The veteran leader is now set to govern the Jewish state for longer than any other previous prime minister, including Israel’s founding father David Ben-Gurion.
While Netanyahu’s Likud party came in only one seat ahead of rival Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party with 36 seats in Israel’s 120 seat Knesset, the result marks a 6 seat increase from the 30 seats he held in the outgoing government. Together with his traditional allies in the right-religious bloc, he’s set to form a ruling coalition with a comfortable 65 seat majority.
Also to Netanyahu’s advantage is the failure of two of his leading rivals on his right flank to pass the electoral threshold of 3.25% of the vote. The first, Moshe Feiglin of the Zehut party, once challenged Netanyahu for leadership of Likud. His strong performance in polls had pundits expecting him to play the role of kingmaker in coalition politics.
More surprising is the collapse of the New Right party headed by Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked. Both are previous Netanyahu aides who often served as vocal critics, even while sitting in the prime minister’s third and fourth governments.
Netanyahu’s ploy to bring the ultra-nationalist Otzma Yehudit party and its voters into the fold via a merger with the religious-right Jewish Home party also paid off. The combined Union of Right-Wing Parties won 5 seats in the election. His traditional allies in the Shas and Yahadut HaTorah religious parties also increased their Knesset representation to 8 and 7 seats respectively.
For Netanyahu’s critics, the results, and the likely makeup of the new government, will serve as affirmation of what they have long suspected, that Israel’s rapid descent into authoritarianism is gaining pace. One Ha’aretz columnist even went so far as to call Netanyahu’s Israel a “dictatorship.”
What the results really affirm, however, is that in Israel’s vibrant democracy the power remains firmly in the hands of the people. No amount of handwringing from media pundits or US Democratic presidential candidates could get the Israeli public to drop either Netanyahu or their elevation of national security above all other issues.
Netanyahu’s opponents attacked his character, highlighted the graft cases against him, accused him of divisiveness and even racism. They said it was time for change, but ultimately Netanyahu’s years of steadily navigating through a slew of complex security challenges as well as notable diplomatic achievements proved decisive.
He’s long spoken of the dangers of territorial concessions in exchange for peace. The land-for-peace formula is one many Israelis today see as simply impractical. He anticipated the long cold “winter” that has followed the Arab spring. He’s kept awareness of the Iranian nuclear threat at the fore, advocating uncompromising policies on the word stage. He’s revolutionized Israel’s cyber security sector, and added F-35s and Dolphin-class nuclear powered submarines to Israel’s military portfolio.
Above all have been Netanyahu’s diplomatic achievements. He’s shepherded Israel into the community of nations as a valued and respected partner, with the Jewish state’s ties blossoming on every continent. He’s expanded ties with India, China, Brazil and Japan. He’s made historic visits to Australia, Singapore, South America and Africa. In Eastern Europe, Hungary, Romania, Poland, Austria and the Czech Republic have all sought stronger ties with Jerusalem. With Vladimir Putin’s Russia he’s established a respectful dialogue and a practical operational alignment.
After years of holding President Obama’s designs for the Jewish state at bay, Netanyahu has delivered a slew of concrete victories for Israeli diplomacy through the warm ties he’s developed with President Trump. These include US recognition of the Golan Heights as Israeli territory and Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. There’s the diminished US funding for UNRWA and the Palestinian Authority, vocal opposition to Palestinian terror payments and the forthright advocacy for Israel at the United Nations.
It was these achievements that served as a central theme to Netanyahu’s reelection campaign. Giant billboards and flashy ad segments featured Netanyahu alongside other leading international figures with the slogan, “Netanyahu. In another league.”
For a nation that has so often stood alone, the prospect of continued momentum for Israel in the strongest diplomatic trajectory in its history proved just too alluring for voters to pass up on a fifth Netanyahu term.
Netanyahu’s challenge in his next term will be managing expectations when the US rolls out it’s long awaited peace initiative. Perhaps he’ll be tempted to return the favor to President Trump, facing his own re-election, and try to somehow make a breakthrough peace deal work.
It will, however, be important for US negotiators to be cognizant of the new political reality. Israel has moved on from the failed old paradigms for peace discussions and its prime minister will be in a stronger position having the electoral backing of the voters — a rare distinction for any Middle East leader.
Dovid Efune is the editor-in-chief and CEO of The Algemeiner.