Critics said these early elections would change nothing. Then they said it was a stupid move that would end him politically. They were wrong both times. Netanyahu got everything he wanted. He, and Israel, are in far better shape than they were four months ago.
The three big changes
The left, right, and “center” are each about as big as they were before. But 3 big things changed:
- The center parties split. Moshe Kachlon, who calls himself a true Likudnik and heir of Menachem Begin, now has 10 seats previously held by other parties considered “center.” He will likely be given the finance ministry. Unlike his predecessor Yair Lapid he will rarely (if ever) criticize Netanyahu on foreign policy issues. His mandate is to take down the cartels, fight monopolistic practices, and help the middle class economically.
- The Likud grew from 18 seats to 30, at the expense of other right wing parties.
- Right before the election, Netanyahu backtracked from the 2-state solution, giving him the chance to claim he now has a mandate to resist pressure for concessions. He already walked that back, but it’s out there.
So Netanyahu should now have a 67-seat (out of 120) relatively homogeneous coalition that will support him as he stands up to foreign pressure. He is stronger than he’s ever been, and his party has 67% more seats than it did last time. He’ll plausibly claim a mandate to rethink diplomatic solutions. And nobody is going to shut down Israel’s most read newspaper, Yisrael Hayom (Israel Today). The effort to shut down the Adelson-funded pro-Netanyahu free daily paper was one of the triggers for Netanyahu calling early elections.
If not the 2-State solution, then what?
Support or opposition to the 2-state solution is a lot less binary than people pretend. Most Israelis support some Palestinian entity that’s less than a fully sovereign state. We’re really arguing about the parameters of that entity: borders, territorial contiguity, connection between the West Bank and Gaza, militarization, security arrangements, Jordan Valley, Jerusalem, Jewish settlements, relationships with Israeli citizens who call themselves Palestinians, etc., how it relates to Israel.
Any “final” solution the two sides agree upon would be seen as a vast betrayal by the majorities of Israelis and Palestinians. And the agreement would be nearly worthless, as it’s highly likely that a future leader of one side or the other will claim, when convenient, that the deal was coerced, or a betrayal by a previous leader, or was already broken by the other side and thus no longer binding.
Israeli, Palestinian and foreign leadership should now focus on improving lives, not final solutions.
Israeli Isolation Won’t Dramatically Change
Israeli international isolation is not exactly a new thing. Nor is heated tension between the Israeli prime minister and the American president.
In many ways, Israel’s situation is better than ever. It has the best relations it’s ever had with India, Japan, China, Canada, Australia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and many African countries. It has strong support from most Americans. Most Democrats ignored administration pressure to boycott Netanyahu’s speech, and the senate is plausibly threatening that it will have 67 votes to override the president’s veto on a bad Iran deal.
Yes, the next 19 months will be tough. The president and prime minister have not only personal animus, but also vastly different views of America, Israel, Iran, Islamic terrorism, and Western Civilization. But they also have many shared values, interests, and enemies.
The Israeli public has loudly rejected the president’s efforts to reduce their support for Netanyahu. And we’re entering a US election cycle where Democrats will be defending against Republicans accusations that their party is antagonistic to the Middle East’s lone liberal democracy.
Netanyahu has already walked back some of his statements, and he’ll continue saying all the right things about his respect and appreciation for the president and the United States. The president will take his pound of Netanyahu flesh. But the two will continue to work together, begrudgingly.
This was a big victory for Netanyahu. He now has a solid, unapologetically right-wing government that is on record as opposing a Palestinian state. He’s a legend now, probably in his final term, and his potential successors will be vying for his favor. His critics have again been exposed as having more invective than insight. And the Israeli people have told him to focus on the economy. He will pursue improving Israeli and Palestinian lives, while resisting pressure for dangerous concessions. Netanyahu got everything he wanted.
His critics can disagree with him, but they should stop mocking him. And they should ask themselves why they’re so often wrong in their confident statements about Netanyahu’s missteps. Maybe he’s smarter than they think not just about politics, but about the issues as well.