Netanyahu did it again. Despite three indictments for corruption hanging over his future, despite the gaps between rich and poor and increasing costs of living, despite the collapsing health system, despite spending hours in traffic jams every week, despite the periodic barrage of rockets from Gaza, despite the perception of giving into Hamas and paying protection money, Benjamin Netanyahu will remain Israel’s prime minister.
Israel is a very divided society. Yet it is difficult to determine that the division is over ideology and visions for the future of Israel. Israel divided its votes equally between Netanyahu and Benny Gantz. But the Arab citizens of Israel failed to bring out the vote. One of the two Arab parties did not make it over the threshold – and they will surely pay the price for it. Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut Party, surprisingly, failed to cross the threshold, and that is good news.
The best news is that the Bennett-Shaked union of the New Right will also be out of our lives for the coming months, perhaps years. However, the agenda that Shaked set in place with the aim of eliminating the ability of the Supreme Court to deal with constitutional issues will likely advance.
Along with the bad news is the shrinking of the Labor Party and its more ideological sister, Meretz. Both Labor and Meretz need to rethink their futures.
Israel continues to move to the Right. Gantz and his party of generals will bring new life to the opposition, where they will primarily focus on bringing down Netanyahu after his hearing regarding his criminal indictments. The assumption this morning is that the cases against Netanyahu are so solid that within a year, he will be forced to resign, and then Israel will most likely head to the polls once again, this time without the unbeatable Netanyahu heading the Likud.
For now, it seems that what there was is what there will be. Avigdor Liberman may be heading back to the Defense Ministry. Kahlon will be heading back to the Finance Ministry. The right-wing religious union will probably demand the education portfolio and maybe the Justice Ministry.
None of the real issues on Israel’s agenda were even discussed during the election campaign. The critical issues – of determining Israel’s borders, the future of the occupied territories, the Palestinian issue, and the issue of peace – have never been further from the public political debate than in this election campaign. Issues concerning Israel’s economic policies and direction, what was called just a few years ago “social justice,” were also not on the agenda. The issues of the environment and climate change, which is on the agenda of young people all around the world, was also not on the agenda in these elections.
The Israeli elections were about one main issue: Benjamin Netanyahu, and here is where the public seems most divided. Those of us who see Netanyahu as corrupt, divisive against Arabs and leftists, an annexationist without any hope in the world of ending Israel’s occupation over the Palestinian people, are extremely sad this morning.
The other side is celebrating its victory, and will now hold Netanyahu to his words: that the criminal files against him are nothing and will quickly disappear; that he will annex at least the Jewish settlement blocs accounting for 20-40% of the West Bank; that he will eliminate the Hamas threat in Gaza; and that he will continue to march into the arms of waiting Arab leaders in the region, without giving in to the Palestinians.
What I see from the Left side of the political map is the continuing weakening of the rule of law; increasing threats to Israel’s Supreme Court; continued provocation with the Palestinian Authority that will lead to a sharp increase in violence; little chance of changing the situation vis-à-vis Gaza; and no changes regarding the regional threats. It seems hard to believe that after his hearing on the cases of corruption, the indictments will not be issued and then Netanyahu will have his “day in court.” Except that his day in court will be many, many days and months, and it is hard to understand how he will be able to run the country that needs most of his time to be prime minister. For this reason, it is likely his coalition partners will advance a law or a mechanism to enable him to delay his legal battles until he is no longer prime minister, and that could be years from now.
The most important unknown is President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century,” which is supposed to be presented, finally, in the near future. If it is, as I expect, a pre-cooked deal between Trump and Netanyahu, it will be a total non-starter for the Palestinians, who will immediately reject it. Then Netanyahu will be able to freely embrace it, even if there are elements in the plan that he rejects. Netanyahu will blame the Palestinians, once again for rejecting peace, and say that Israel has no partner.
Netanyahu will be able to state that Israel accepts the plan as a basis for negotiations and we are, once again, waiting for there to be a Palestinian partner. Following this, he is likely to move forward with his plans for annexing large chunks of the West Bank. The action that will put a final blow to the option of two states, except, as I wrote last week, he will begin the process of convincing the world that the two-states solution already exists, with Gaza being a Palestinian state.
He will also bring new life into what was called the “Jordanian option,” telling West Bank Palestinians that they already have Jordanian citizenship, and if they want they are welcome to remain in areas A and B of the West Bank under the corrupt Palestinian Authority, or to leave to Jordan or elsewhere.
President Abbas’s days are numbered for sure – as a result of age, too many years in office, or his inability to offer any hope to his people. The Palestinian people will also have their day at the polls in the not too distant future. Without any positive political horizon for them, it is likely that they too will end up with a government which is not interested in peace with Israel.
For reasons that completely escape me, most Israelis who I meet seem content and even happy with their situation. This is an aspect of Israeli society that we will have to revisit. For me personally, I am very worried about our future.
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.