The victory in Israel of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud Party, which took many observers by surprise, has made the possibility of a peace agreement with the Palestinians even more remote and has created a new dilemma for both the US and the EU.
Shamefully, in the last few days of the campaign, Netanyahu said he would never allow the creation of a Palestinian State – the basis of more than two decades of Middle East negotiations – and promised to build more settlements in the occupied territories. Netanyahu told voters that a Palestinian State would give “attack grounds to radical Islam”.
He also embarked on a scaremongering and anti-Arab campaign, warning voters that the planned massive turnout by Israeli Arabs would have grim consequences for the country. Shortly before the election, Netanyahu wrote on Facebook: “The right-wing government is in danger. Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls. Left-wing organisations are bussing them out.”
He had already resorted to scaremongering two weeks before the election when he addressed the US Congress – and very wrongly ventured into American domestic politics – to express his hysterical all-out opposition to an Iranian nuclear deal.
The election result also left Israeli pollsters red-faced after they first predicted that the main centre-left Opposition Zionist Union would win the election and then, after the exit polls, said that the two main parties were running neck and neck and would end up with the same number of seats.
Both predictions were wrong. This is not the first time, however, that Israeli election forecasts have turned out to be incorrect: Likud’s narrow wins in 1981 and 1996, as well as Labour’s victory in 1992 were not what the polls had predicted.
The allocated seat projection so far in the 120-seat Parliament stands at 30 for Likud and 24 for the Zionist Union, with the other parties getting the following number of seats: Joint List (Arab), 14; Yesh Atid (centre), 11; Kulanu (centre), 10; Jewish Home (right-wing religious), eight; Shas (ultra-orthodox religious), seven; Yisrael Beiteinu (right-wing Nationalist), six; United Torah Judaism (ultra-orthodox religious, conservative), six; and Meretz (left-wing, secular, social democratic), four.
The right-wing and religious parties together form a bloc of 57 seats, a little short of the required 61 overall parliamentary majority, while the centre-left and Arab parties together make up a total of 42 seats. Even though mathematically the centre-left, Arab and centre parties can muster a majority of 63 seats this is unlikely to happen, and Likud and its allies need the support of only one of the centre parties to form a comfortable parliamentary majority. This is expected to happen over the next one or two weeks and Netanyahu’s centre coalition partner is expected to be Kulanu whose leader, Moshe Kahlon, is a former Likud minister.
Netanyahu embarked on a scaremongering and anti-Arab campaign
Netanyahu’s victory now creates huge problems for the international community, in particular Washington and the EU, which are firmly committed to a two-State solution. The creation of a Palestinian State has been the cornerstone of US foreign policy, of various administrations, both Democrat and Republican, since the Oslo peace accords of 1993.
Carl Bildt, a former prime minister and foreign minister of Sweden, who has had a number of high profile EU diplomatic roles, tweeted soon after the result of the Israeli election was known: “A new Netanyahu government in Israel risks profound crisis on Palestinian issue. Difficult to see any credible political path forward”.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said: “It has been the policy of the United States for more than 20 years that a two-State solution is the goal of resolving the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians”. The US, he said, would “re-evaluate” its approach in the wake of Netanyahu’s comments ruling out a Palestinian State.
This latest setback now makes life much more difficult for US President Barack Obama, who already has a frosty relationship with Netanyahu. In view of this latest shocking declaration by Israel’s Prime Minister, will Washington continue to veto the Palestinian Authority’s bid for statehood at the UN Security Council, like it did last December?
The US argued then that it vetoed the Palestinian move because it was “more likely to curtail useful negotiations than to bring them to a successful conclusion.” However, now that Netanyahu has rejected negotiations and has promised to build more illegal settlements, a reconsideration of Washington’s position would certainly be in order. In these circumstances, another American veto of Palestinian statehood would be impossible to defend.
Some international media reports have revealed that the US is now seriously considering supporting a UN Security Council resolution calling for the resumption of talks to conclude a final peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. This would be an important first step, as various US administrations have long opposed a role for the Security Council in the Middle East peace process, arguing that peace can only be achieved through direct negotiations by both sides.
With Netanyahu ruling out such negotiations, there is certainly no longer any justification for keeping the Security Council out of the picture. Both the US and EU must make it abundantly clear to Netanyahu that his backtracking on the creation of a Palestinian State is absolutely unacceptable and will only lead to less security for Israel.
Should Israel stick to this policy then Washington and Brussels should do whatever is possible to make Palestinian statehood a reality. In view of Netanyahu’s U-turn and pledge to build more settlements on Arab land, the US, which is really the only country to have much clout over Israel, should review its financial aid package to the Israeli government.