Not since the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 has a politician of any stripe or color been elected by Israel’s popular vote four times in the position of Prime Minister. But that is exactly what happened to the leader of the Likud party just two days ago. The race which political pundits inside and outside Israel prophesied was a dead heat, and one too close to call, up until election polls, turned out to be a solo concerto piece that brought King Bibi to even newer political heights.
It may come with a price. For just 24 hours to go prior to voting, Netanyahu reversed his position on the Palestinian two-state solution by promising it would never happen on his watch. He promised the continuing expansion of so-called settlements. And with these statements out in the open, and clearly enunciated for the electorate to chew on, Netanyahu’s race to victory morphed into a spectacular sprint…that may leave Israel hunkering under even larger barges of international criticism and isolationism. Meanwhile he nearly doubled the number of seats in the Knesset for his party from the last election, and now that he occupies a quarter of Israel’s Parliament, he has brought his party to heights it has not seen for nearly ten years.
Why did the electorate go for Netanyahu ? After all, the Zionist Union party under Herzog and Livni seemed to be breaking records themselves as they saw their numbers surge in a way that was not seen for years, to the point that they prematurely celebrated victory, only to watch Netanyahu pass them by in the last hours of polling
Political pundits will credit a number of issues, facts, details and their own inside wisdom for answers. But the truth is that Israel feels isolated and threatened…with no, or little, help from their friends. Iran continues to be an existential threat to an Israel on jitters of facing a nuclear enemy who continuously promises the annihilation of that state. They see America and Europe caving in to Iran’s lies and charm, leaving Israel as the picture in the sights of Iran’s nuclear missiles. The BDS movement delegitimizes Israel in college campuses and in the public arena causing greater strife and threats between Jews and non-Jews. And this, in turn, masks the greater levels of anti-Semitism and attacks Jews are facing all over Europe. In fact, journalists go on their European beat wearing a skullcap just to see the kind of reaction they will get….and the picture is far from pretty. And then don’t forget ISIS and Hamas and Hezbollah now surround Israel with terrorist armies and missiles, which is, in anyone’s thinking, not a triumvirate you want to wake up in the morning worrying about every day.
And so, Israelis voted their fears. And when you’re afraid, threatened, facing implacable enemies, you vote for who you believe poses as the strongest statesman around; the individual who has been battle tested by Israeli politics and more than survived; the politician who has already proven himself to be able to stand up to leaders of all types and creeds, and has even lectured Congress for a record three times ! He knows that the so-called peace process will never get anywhere – that has already been tried twice before by leaders Ehud Barak in 2001 and Ehud Olmert nine years later, and both times rejected by the Palestinians. So Netanyahu can safely divest himself from the attempt without political sacrifice. And he also knows Israelis are moving towards the right, and are sick and tired of wasting time and effort in pursuit of a vacuous goal which will only be thrown back in their faces once again
Furthermore, Israelis view President Obama as being weak, and with so much derision for failing to meet his own foreign policy goals..in fact, it is a policy in tatters. He has drawn the red line in the sand so many times with Bashir Assad of Syria regarding the latter’s use of chemical weapons against his own people; they have witnessed an America retrench in world involvement with the new goal of No Boots On The Ground anywhere. And they watch the talks with Iran falter every day as America and Europe cave in to Iran’s demands and charades.
So, in an atmosphere such as this, Netanyahu was able to successfully portray himself as the knight in shining armor who is the only politician who can lead Israelis through these multi-level crises. He will, however, also have to turn inward as Israeli society faces exceptionally high levels of poverty, where the gap between the haves and have-nots have widened frighteningly apart, and nearly a third of Israeli children live below the poverty line. These are no less existential crises that have to be met head-on. Maybe Netanyahu can solve these problems too. After all, he is not known as the “magician” for nothing
Chaim R. Landau