The victory of Benjamin Netanyahu, in the April 9 elections in Israel, attests to the fact that right-wing politics carries weight and falls easily along the lines of the mood of the majority of the electorate. The victory clearly shows that the people of Israel trust the leadership of Netanyahu and they have again reposed faith in him to be their country’s prime minister.
The parliamentary elections were seen as a referendum on Mr. Netanyahu, the four-time premier. In this acid test, he has succeeded, thereby, consolidating his position and proving his critics absolutely wrong. There have been many great changes in Israeli politics during the leadership of Netanyahu in addition to the great turmoil that the Arab region has witnessed from Arab Spring, Syrian Civil War, Yemeni Civil War and the growing Saudi-Iran rivalry. Turkey’s assertiveness under president Recep Tayyip Erdogan is also an important development.
Though Netanyahu weathered this political storm and took Israeli-American relations to new heights, he was feeling the heat of losing the election. Not only was he facing the charges of corruption before the polls but also he was facing tough competition in defending his title from Benny Gantz, the former chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Forces. Gantz, the leader of the centrist Blue and White party, was fighting against Netanyahu as an alternative. Worse, Gantz’s entry led to an alliance between the smaller Israeli parties against Netanyahu.
The Israeli public was in Netanyahu’s side as most of them thought Israel is more secure under his leadership. Israeli right-wing and religious parties have always supported him. But the right in Israel is divided among many small parties. While all these parties are natural partners of Netanyahu’s Likud party, there are also two ultra-Orthodox parties that prefer Netanyahu over the center-left.
A perception goes that Netanyahu’s close relationship with the Trump administration has played a pivotal role in reelecting him as Israeli premier. During the last few years, Washington moved the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, stopped funding UNRWA (an organization that supports Palestinian refugees), most recently recognized the Golan Heights region as part of Israel and has left UNESCO in response to the criticism of its bias against Israel.
Moreover, the U.S. has closed the Palestinian mission in Washington and sought to revoke visas and remove Palestinian representatives from Washington. Most importantly, the Trump administration has pledged a peace deal post the Israeli polls. What would be this peace deal, is anybody’s guess? However, no rocket science is required to foresee the beneficiary.
As America has very good relations with the regional players such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE and Egypt; Israel also is in good terms with these countries though covertly. Never have these countries objected to the behavior of Israel or questioned its way of treating the people of Palestine awaiting its statehood from decades. The Palestinians are fighting for a separate state with East Jerusalem as the capital but the unwillingness or inability of the regional Arab states to support their cause, continues to embolden Israel denying the separate state to Palestine. In this endeavor, Netanyahu has been on the forefront. That impressed the hawkish Israelis, leaving the premier in a commanding position in the recent polls despite charges of corruption.
America too has made the best of Israel’s bad relations with Iran, whom it sees as the source of all trouble in the Arab region. With Netanyahu leading from the front in criticizing and condemning the conduct of Iran in the Middle East, Washington has tried its best to use Israel as a tool to contain Iranian influence and stop it from emerging as a leader in the region.
Trump’s unilateral move of pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal or JCPOA of 2015 and re-imposing tough sanctions against the Shia majority state, were aimed at containing Iran and allowing Israel to dominate. In these efforts, Netanyahu has never disappointed America which has gifted him with the territory that does not belong to Israel. The territorial gains, just before the elections, contributed to the right-wing leader’s victory.
President Donald Trump’s close relationship with Netanyahu has led the White House to develop its Middle East policies with a friendly and politically useful Jerusalem in mind, and his removal would have seriously hurt the Trump administration’s regional priorities such as containing Iran.
Now with Netanyahu is back as Israeli premier, the right wing approach of his administration may close the window of peace with Palestine because the approach has worked for the winning leader. Moreover, the Israelis may see the PM as the guardian of peace and security due to his hard-line foreign policies.
Mr. Netanyahu’s victory may also have emboldened the politicians of his ideology around the world. They may look to apply the same strategy and highlight the security issues of their nations to woo voters. Is right-wing politics striking deep roots to undermine the democratic rights of people?
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Geopolitics.
Sheikh Shabir Kulgami is a Kashmiri (Indian) political commentator, analyst and columnist. He writes extensively on South Asia.