Chose Bibi Over Barack
March 18, 2015
The experts who said Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu was vulnerable before yesterday's national election insisted
that the vote was a referendum on him. His overwhelming victory shows that it
was equally a referendum on U.S. President Barack Obama. Netanyahu gave
voters a choice between whom to trust more with their nation's security. The
result was clear.
To understand how the political dynamics
played out, consider Netanyahu's comments on the eve of the vote. Asked in an
interview with the right-leaning website NRG if there was any chance for a
Palestinian state under another Netanyahu government, he declared there was
Solution: A Dimming Dream
Lots of journalists
and analysts saw it as a reversal
of the prime minister's speech in 2009 at Bar Ilan University, in which he laid
vision for a demilitarized Palestinian nation. But the context here is
important. Netanyahu prefaced his answer by stating something very obvious:
"I think that anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state today
and evacuate lands is giving attack grounds to the radical Islam against the
state of Israel.”
This was not fear-mongering. It was something
Israelis have been grappling with for a decade. Following then-prime minister
Ariel Sharon's decision to unilaterally uproot Jewish settlements and remove
troops from Gaza in 2005, Hamas took over the territory. It didn't happen all at
once. But after Hamas won parliamentary elections in 2006 and the Fatah faction
of the Palestinian Authority refused to seat its ministers, Hamas fighters
expelled the Fatah loyalists from Gaza's security agencies and took control of
Since then, Hamas has spent most of its
resources preparing for battle. There have been three Gaza wars since the Sharon
pullout, and most Israelis fear that a similar withdrawal from the West Bank
would yield the same results. This concern has increased over the last year as
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas -- Israel's peace partner -- has
been trying form a unity government with Hamas, a jihadist organization
committed to Israel's destruction.
Of course, Israel and Netanyahu are not
blameless in this. Netanyahu's failure to curb settlement growth in the West
Bank has convinced Palestinians that they have no Israeli partner. The Israeli
presence in the West Bank has resulted in the detention of thousands of
Palestinians -- many of them in the teens.
But only a sliver of Jewish Israelis support
an unconditional withdrawal from that territory. Even Netanyahu's center-left
opposition, the Zionist Union, has abandoned the idea of a unilateral pullout.
In their campaign, its leaders promised to pursue negotiations, but didn't
promise to cede any territory Israel won in the 1967 war or to re-divide
Israel's capital, Jerusalem.
Looking ahead, it's important to consider a
much-ignored part of Netanyahu's NRG interview. He said he anticipated renewed
international pressure to force an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. If so,
the question is whether the U.S. will join in, pushing Israel to abandon the
West Bank. As Democratic Representative Adam Schiff suggested on
CNN, if the White House interprets Netanyahu's pre-election statement as a new
Israeli policy, the U.S. could decide not to veto a future U.N. Security
resolution recognizing Palestinian statehood.
But these hypotheticals are overblown.
Netanyahu is a politician. Politicians say all kinds of things in campaign mode
that they don't end up doing when they govern. Netanyahu opposed a two-state
solution in the 1990s, but as prime minister he signed the Wye River Accords,
which built up the Palestinian Authority's security services and further
committed Israel to a two-state solution. Netanyahu campaigned in 2008 against
Sharon's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, but then gave the Bar Ilan speech in
2009 and agreed to a partial settlement freeze at the request of the White
Obama is also a politician. In 2012 he said he
wasn't bluffing when he pledged he would not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear
weapon. Netanyahu campaigned on the simple message that Obama was indeed
bluffing. The deal Obama's diplomats are now trying to close would likely leave
Iran in possession of thousands of centrifuges and expire in 10 years. Yes,
there would be increased monitoring of its nuclear program, but Iran would
remain a threshold nuclear state, capable of using its infrastructure to make a
bomb when it saw fit.
That's something neither Netanyahu nor his
accept. The Zionist Union skewered Netanyahu for taking his grievances with
Obama public, saying his alienation of Obama was partly to blame for the bad
nuclear deal. Netanyahu turned this attack on its head. In his Washington speech
this month he warned Congress about Obama's diplomacy. At home, he accused the
opposition of lacking the fortitude to stand up to an American president who was
willing to sacrifice Israel's security for a legacy agreement with Iran.
Netanyahu's political instincts were correct.
In re-electing him, a large plurality of Israelis agreed that Obama is not to be
trusted. The question now for Obama is whether he thinks Netanyahu was bluffing
or telling the truth in his pre-election interview. I suppose it all comes down
to a matter of trust.
To contact the author on this story:
Eli Lake at firstname.lastname@example.org