While the Israeli election results does not yet tell us who the next prime minister will, or who will form the next government, it does indicate that Netanyahu’s dominant grip over the political system is coming to an end.
His party lost seats, his right-wing bloc does not have the required majority, and his legal issues will come back to haunt him in the weeks ahead. Netanyahu’s campaign, which was full of negativity, fear-mongering and disinformation, failed to achieve its electoral goals.
International leaders seem to have been among the first to realise Netanyahu’s political weakness. Prior to the April 2019 election, Netanyahu toured the world and hosted foreign leaders. A range of non-liberal leaders like Putin, Orban, Bolsonaro, Modi and Salvini all pitched in to support his campaign.
Things did not go so well for Netanyahu this time around. When he flew to London to meet Boris Johnson, the British PM publicly stressed his support for the two-state solution, which Netanyahu opposes. When Netanyahu flew to Sochi to meet Putin, he was left waiting by the Russian president for three hours, and did not return to Israel with policy achievements.
Even Trump refrained from giving Netanyahu a pre-election “gift” as he did last time, only indicating a vague willingness to discuss a mutual defence treaty after the election. King Abdullah of Jordan reportedly rejected Netanyahu’s request for a meeting, much like other Arab leaders did earlier this year.
Moreover, the crisis facing Israel’s foreign ministry, which was deliberately weakened by Netanyahu, deepened further in the lead-up to the elections, but following this election, responsibility for managing Israel’s foreign relations will likely change hands, with Yair Lapid being a major candidate to serve as foreign minister.
The next government will need to lead a fix in Israel’s foreign policy. It should advance peace with the Palestinians; highlight Israel’s commitment to liberal-democratic values; engage with (rather than delegitimise) international critics; restore bipartisan support for Israel in the US; stop EU-bashing and improve ties with Brussels; take the opportunity to reshape ties with Arab countries; mend the crisis with world Jewry, and legitimise the involvement of Israel’s Arab citizens in foreign affairs.
This Israeli election did not produce an ideological shift from right to left, and this will limit the extent of foreign policy change we can expect, but it did open up a path for leadership change, block far-right parties, and empower Palestinian citizens of Israel. Given Israel’s difficult political reality, these are important first steps towards change.
- Dr. Nimrod Goren is Head of Mitvim – The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies