The Hidden Consensus in the Israeli Election
By JONATHAN S. TOBIN
March 4, 2020 7:44 PM
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
The country’s political deadlock is unresolved, but Israelis across the political spectrum take a hard line on their country’s security.
Three times might not have been the charm for Israel’s political system. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party reclaimed its position as the largest faction in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in Monday’s vote, the third election in the last year. But the bloc of right-wing and religious parties aligned with Netanyahu failed to win a clear majority of the 120-seat Knesset. Netanyahu has two options to remain in power: build a national-unity coalition with the main opposition Blue and White Party; or entice some defectors from either it or one of the other parties pledged to oppose him and eke out a majority.
Israel’s complicated internal political struggles may seem both baffling and counterproductive to American observers. But Americans should know that Israel is not divided or uncertain about what they generally consider to be the most important issue for the Jewish state: the conflict with the Palestinians.
The latest election may not have decided whether Netanyahu should remain in office. But the results re-confirmed that Israel is largely united on issues of security and peace. It’s true that Blue and White and its leader, former general Benny Gantz, have tried and failed three times in the last eleven months to oust the incumbent. But the opposition actually agrees with Netanyahu on a great deal: In his campaign, Gantz emphasized that he will be just as tough on security as Netanyahu, and that he is just as skeptical of the Palestinian Authority as a peace partner.
Gantz also agrees with Netanyahu about the need to maintain a blockade on Gaza, which is run by the Hamas terrorist movement. He also favors annexing some of the West Bank settlements that the international community has declared to be illegal. He has criticized past Israeli offers to the Palestinians that were predicated on exchanging land for peace. He and his party basically agree with the Likud that past efforts — like the 1993 Oslo Accords, Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza, and offers of statehood that the Palestinians turned down in 2000, 2001, and 2008 — were disasters for Israel. Gantz also supported the Trump Middle East plan that the Palestinians rejected out of hand. In doing so, the opposition is merely reflecting most Israeli public opinion polls, such as a survey of Israelis taken last summer by the liberal-leaning American Jewish Committee, that showed clear majorities opposing even a demilitarized Palestinian state or the dismantling of any settlements under the current circumstances.
The problem is that Palestinian Authority moderates continue to subsidize terrorism, and to share the conviction of Hamas and Islamic Jihad never to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state regardless of its borders. While they do so, the only Israeli constituency for more land for peace offers will be the far Left and anti-Zionist Arab political parties. They are opposed by a broad coalition of Blue and White voters, and those from other small parties both aligned with and opposed to Likud. These voters share Netanyahu’s conviction that, under the present circumstances, a withdrawal from the West Bank to the 1967 lines would be irrational.
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