A Wake-up Call for the Arab World
Israelis voted in the second snap election in two years on 17 March 2015. The results showed that the incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party scored a resounding victory despite pre-election polls showing him trailing the Zionist Union. Likud grabbed 30 out of parliament’s 120 seats and became in a position to build a coalition government with its right-wing and religious allies with relative ease.
As much as Benjamin Netanyahu’s landslide victory in the recent legislative elections in Israel was bad news for the Palestinians and the rest of the world, it was probably a much-needed wake-up call for those who still believe in a two-state solution. His victory has underlined the fact that the Israeli society is leaning heavily to the right and the far right, as evident from election results. The right camp won 67 seats compared to 39 seats that the left and centrist parties grabbed. Netanyahu’s anti-Arab rhetoric and his pledge not to allow the creation of a Palestinian state gave him an edge over far right and religious parties. Had the Zionist Union defeated Netanyahu, as most opinion polls predicted, the Palestinians would have wasted another four years clinging to false hopes over a political settlement.
With the peace process dead and buried it will be pointless for the Americans to try to convince Netanyahu to return to the negotiating table. The two-state solution is behind us now and the Palestinians will have to brace themselves for four difficult years ahead. The narrow right-wing government that Netanyahu promised to form will almost certainly double its efforts to Judaize East Jerusalem, fatten and build new settlements in the West Bank and challenge Jordan’s authority over Al-Aqsa Mosque. And with the Obama presidency nearing its end, the Israeli prime minister knows that he will not be challenged or stopped in his tracks.
Reports that Obama is considering backing a UN resolution “embodying the principles of a two-state solution that would include Israel’s 1967 borders with Palestine and mutually agreed swaps of territory,” are unlikely to be taken seriously. Obama has tried to stand up to Netanyahu before and has failed.
Even if these reports are true, Obama will face criticism from his own party, not to mention the Republicans, for abandoning Israel. And even if such resolution is adopted it will hardly force Netanyahu to change his course.
One thing is clear; Israel will be increasingly isolated if it turns its back to the peace process and ignores its friends and allies in the West. Netanyahu cannot afford to anger Israel’s friends at a time when the international community has sealed an interim deal with Iran over its nuclear programme.
Therefore, Netanyahu had opted to form a coalition government with the Zionist Union, only to give the impression that Israel is still engaged in a political process with the Palestinians. Bringing in Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni will definitely improve Netanyahu’s image abroad and may even prolong the life of his historic fourth term. Such a government will be welcomed by Washington and other Western capitals.
But the Palestinians must not be taken by such manoeuvres. There are no major ideological differences between Netanyahu and Livni, and the Zionist Union’s stand on Jerusalem and West Bank settlements is close to that of the Likud. Herzog has ignored the subject of peace talks with the Palestinians during his campaign, concentrating instead on economic issues.
The message from the Israeli electorate is loud and clear. Fewer Israelis today back a political settlement based on UN resolutions and the original Oslo Accords. President Mahmoud Abbas knows this after more than 20 years of futile negotiations. His options are limited but he must not back down from putting diplomatic pressure on Israel in international forums. Expecting support from the White House at this juncture will be a waste of time.
In addition, Arab countries can do little to help the Palestinians. The Arab world is facing unprecedented crises in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya. Gulf states are more worried about the growing Iranian threat and the possible change in US policy in the Middle East.
The fact is Abbas has fewer allies today as Palestinians face the most crucial existential challenge in their struggle for self-determination. The most reliable support will come from his own people and to secure this, he must end his rift with Hamas and bolster national reconciliation. With the failure of peace talks with Israel, he must now prepare his people for the worst.
His message to the Israeli public should point to the fact that with the collapse of the two-state solution, Netanyahu’s unilateral policies will lead to one inevitable outcome; a bi-national state; a view echoed recently by Livni as well. Certainly Netanyahu’s bid to pass a law recognizing Israel as a Jewish state will do more harm than good to Israel’s future.
Netanyahu had always claimed that Israel had no Palestinian partner to negotiate with. But his stunning victory confirms the opposite; Israelis have no interest in negotiating an end to their conflict with the Palestinians. The price for this will be paid by both!
Population: 8.2 million, of whom 75 percent (6.2 million) are Jews, 20 percent (1.7 million) are Arabs and the rest are classified as “others,” most of them non-Jewish immigrants.
Per capita GDP is $36,051.
Some Random Facts
Israelis do not vote directly for a politician like many countries in the world. They cast a ballot for a particular political party.
National elections to the Knesset are held once every four years, unless circumstances call for early elections.
The Knesset took its name and fixed its membership at 120 from the Knesset Hagedolah (Great Assembly), the representative Jewish council convened in Jerusalem by Ezra and Nehemiah in the 5th century BCE.
Every Israeli citizen 18 years of age or over is eligible to vote for one registered political party.
Every Israeli citizen who is 21 years old and up may be elected.
Knesset seats are assigned in proportion to each party’s percentage of the total national vote.
Only 10 parties could get seats in the 120-strong single-chamber parliament, the Knesset.
The 20th Knesset was sworn in on 31st March with 120 lawmakers, among them 39 new members.
The government is installed when the Knesset has expressed confidence in it by a majority of 61 Knesset members, and then the ministers assume office.
In Israel’s 67-year history, no single party has received enough Knesset seats to be able to form a government by itself; thus the country has always been governed by a coalition.