A couple of days before the Israeli elections poles showed that Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party falling behind by four seats to its chief rival, the Zionist Union headed by Netanyahu’s prime rival Isaac Herzog. Netanyahu bid to remain Israel’s Prime Minister, but as he has in the recent past, Netanyahu again showed he is willing to use do just about anything to retain power.
If you think the US two party system often results in overly partisan politics, imagine what it is like in Israel when ten or more parties vie for leadership positions in Israel’s parliamentary system of government. In the Israeli elections, if one party can win 30 of the available 120 seats (25%) of the seats in the Knesset, it’s considered a huge electoral victory. Knesset is the Israeli parliament and it passes all laws, approves the cabinet (which is often composed of Knesset members, elects the Israeli President, and supervises the work of the government through its committees. The party that wins the most seats is given the first opportunity to build a coalition government with enough other parties to claim a majority (61) of the Knesset’s seats. Therefore, being the party that wins the most seats in an election is very important in Israel, because other parties will often join the winning party to form a government so they can share power.
So when Benjamin Netanyahu saw that his party was falling behind within days to the recent Israeli election, he apparently hit the panic button. Like their conservative brethren in the US, when conservative Israeli politicians want to get out the vote of their constituents, they often resort to the use of fear tactics. Netanyahu put out a statement that conservatives needed to get out and vote because Israeli Arabs were going to the polls in droves and out to steal the election. In this country that would be considered blatant racism, similar to Republicans saying that Democrats were busing blacks to the polls. Such blatant race baiting would not be tolerated in this country. There were even insinuations by Netanyahu that the Arab get out the vote campaign was being financed by the Obama administration.
Unfortunately, Netanyahu did not stop there. In an effort to draw votes away from the hard line conservative parties, he issued a promise that there will not be a Palestinian state on his watch as Prime Minister. With that statement he essentially put an arrow into the heart of the two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian issue at least for the foreseeable future. The forming of a second internationally recognized state of Palestine to exist along side the state of Israel has long considered the best chance for peace in the Middle East and this is a repudiation of the hallmark of US peacemaking efforts in the region for years. The two state solution been strongly supported by many American Presidents including Barrack Obama and George W. Bush. It is yet another testament to Netanyahu’s willingness to endanger Israeli-US relations in order to stay in power.
Of course all of this comes on the heals of Netanyahu’s acceptance of an invitation to address the US Congress to openly criticize the Obama administration’s attempts to negotiate with Iran to stop their attempts to develop nuclear weapons. The Prime Minister has also recently reinforced his support for additional Jewish settlements on the West Bank, another sticking point for Israel’s European and American allies. Apparently he believes that it is more important to remain as Israel’s Prime Minister than it is for Israel to maintain good relations with it’s the US and Israel’s allies in Europe.
Netanyahu achieved his objective of staying in power – his Lukid party secured 29 seats compared to 24 for the rival Zionist Union Party – giving him the an excellent chance of forming a coalition government. However, the Prime Minister is charting a dangerous course for Israel. Several members of the Obama administration both and off of the record have strongly criticized Netanyahu willingness to marginalize Israel’s Arab majority and torpedo peace efforts. Throughout recent history if there was one issue that the Democrats and the Republicans have held above partisan bickering, it was their unanimous support of the Israeli government. Against all odds Benjamin Netanyahu has turned support of Israel into an American partisan football.
Netanyahu closed his speech before the US Congress by saying, “Even if Israel has to stand alone, Israel will stand.” Is that what he really wants, for Israel to stand alone so he can stay in power? The Obama administration has since announced that it is time to “reexamine the US’s relationship with Israel” so let’s explore what “standing alone” could mean.
First, most American Jews are not conservatives and have long supported the Democratic Party. Of course, they are also staunch supporters of Israel, but they could not have been happy to see the American President that they supported and worked hard to elect insulted by the Israeli Prime Minister. While I don’t expect their support of Israel to waiver, I suspect that their willingness to support of the antics of Netanyahu has reached a low point.
In addition, the US has long shielded Israel in the United Nations by threatening to veto attempts to further isolate Israel and to grant the Palestine statehood without Israel’s consent. Many European governments, already frustrated by Netanyahu’s past reluctance to negotiate with the Palestinians, are now angered by his complete abandonment of the two state solution for political reasons. They could well again raise the issue of Palestinian statehood in the UN. If the US doesn’t chose to use its veto in the United Nations Security Council, the measure would likely pass.
The US recently extended $4 Billion in loan guarantees for Israel. These guarantees allows Israel to continue with the issuance of bonds at much lower interest rates because those bonds are backed by the full faith and credit of the US government. The US has already cut the total amount of those loan guarantees in protest the continued use of those funds by Netanyahu government to support increased settlements in Palestinian territories.
Probably the most important benefit afforded Israel by the United States is our support of its military. If Israel is able to “stand alone” while surrounded by enemies in the Middle East, it is because of is because its military is better trained and better equipped than those countries which might be tempted to attack it. That is due in no small part to the $3.1 billion in annual military aid Israel is provided by the United States which ensures that Israel has better military gear than any of its potential adversaries.
The fact that Benjamin Netanyahu was elected to remain as Israel’s Prime Minister despite his desperate antics does not speak well for the present political climate in Israel. However, in a parliamentary democracy with multiple splintered political parties, coalition governments can fail in a matter of months. Meanwhile, the Israeli people would do will to remind their Prime Minister that it is not at all wise to continue to bite the hand that feeds you.