Benjamin Netanyahu has survived a serious political challenge, despite a chorus of complaints about his leadership style as well as gripes over living costs, housing prices, and wages. That would be a bigger surprise in countries where peacetime elections tend to focus on economics. But in Israel, “peacetime” is a relative concept, and this is a country with so many active political parties that winning 30 of 120 seats in parliament allows you to form a government.
How did he do it? First, he recognized that his party needed to win back the votes of hardliners on the peace process who threatened to stray toward the far-right parties. Thus his message became simple: No deals with Iran, no state for Palestinians, and don’t let Arab voters decide the election. It worked. He’ll now form what is likely to be an unwieldy, unstable coalition of the center-right, and then he’ll have to govern.
Netanyahu is likely to pursue a series of controversial policies, such as adoption of the Jewish nationhood bill that would define Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people,” though 20% of Israeli citizens are Arabs. It might also establish Jewish law as an inspiration for future legislation, and delist Arabic as an official language. Expect the construction of more Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. In response, Palestinians will push harder to win recognition of statehood at the United Nations, with sympathy from some European governments. Violence in East Jerusalem and the West Bank will probably intensify.
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Expect even tougher relations with the Obama Administration and more criticism from European capitals, but Netanyahu can manage these problems because Israel’s position in the Middle East has actually strengthened in the past couple of years. The Israeli and Egyptian governments have common enemies in Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. Israel and Turkey share enmity toward Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. The Saudis, Emiratis and others are far more concerned with future threats from Iran than with current help for Palestinians. All these factors ease pressure on Netanyahu to change direction on current policy.
Unfortunately, this leaves the Palestinians with nothing but frustration. A lasting settlement for this chronic conflict has rarely seemed so far away.
Foreign-affairs columnist Bremmer is the president of Eurasia Group, a political-risk consultancy.
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