WWS Reacts: Netanyahu's Re-election

Mar 18 2015
By B. Rose Huber | 609-258-0157
Source Woodrow Wilson School

In one of Israel's tightest races yet, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu triumphed with the Likud Party capturing 30 of the 120 seats in Parliament.

Leading up to the election, Netanyahu made some bold statements to sway right-wing voters, including that a Palestinian state would not be created if he were re-elected. 
How might Netanyahu's re-election affect Israel-Palestine relations going forward? And what will the results mean for Israel, its domestic politics and its international relationships?
Daniel Kurtzer, lecturer and S. Daniel Abraham Professor in Middle Eastern Policy Studies, commented on the election for WWS Reacts

Q. What is your reaction to today's election? Are you surprised?

Kurtzer: Since the polls before the election and exit polls both proved to be wrong, everyone is surprised by the results of the election. Netanyahu’s late surge was dramatic, going from an expected 20 seats to 30 in the course of just a few days. But this came at a high price with Netanyahu pandering to the extreme right by promising to oppose a Palestinian state and playing to prejudice by calling on his constituency to vote so as to counteract an expected high voter turnout among Israeli-Arab citizens. The election result has been polarizing in a society that is in serious need of internal cohesion.

Q. What does this mean for Israel’s domestic politics? Specifically, the economy and living standards (such as housing) have been priority issues for voters. Can we expect any changes in these areas?

Kurtzer: Netanyahu focused his entire campaign on security and on the question of who would be better suited to deal with Israel’s serious security dilemmas – and they are real and serious. He managed to avoid almost any of the pressing economic issues that his opponents Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni and Moshe Kahlon tried to address. Netanyahu’s electoral strategy succeeded, as his base apparently ignored the social-economic agenda. The question is whether Netanyahu can now find a formula to meet some of the demands of Israel’s disaffected lower classes. His tactic may be to entice Kahlon into the coalition, saddle Kahlon with the Finance Ministry and let Kahlon do the heavy lifting. This may prove to be politically clever but without the full backing of a prime minister, economic plans have a way of falling short of expectations.

Q. How could these election results affect the Israel-Palestine conflict?

Kurtzer: However difficult it would have been to revive the peace process had Herzog won the election, it will now be impossible to do so. Not only has Netanyahu’s stated opposition to Palestinian statehood taken the air out of this project, but there is zero confidence among Palestinians that negotiations with Netanyahu would be serious. The Palestinian Authority has already laid the groundwork for a major push for international diplomatic recognition and for translating the conflict into a kind of “lawfare,” that is, encouraging the International Criminal Court or the International Court of Justice to pass judgment on Israeli occupation policies and practices. There is an outside chance that a European-sponsored U.N. Security Council resolution could slow down the rush to these legal remedies, but gaining consensus on such a resolution will face very serious hurdles.

Q. How could these results affect U.S.-Israel relations?

Kurtzer: With Netanyahu and House Speaker John Boehner already having politicized the bilateral relationship by injecting it into the polarized world of Washington politics, it is hard to see how Netanyahu’s victory will help repair the damage done. It is possible that Netanyahu will try to make amends with the Administration, but this is not his style. He is just as likely to double down and stick with the Republicans and the Congress over the next two years, rather than try to work with the administration. None of this portends well for the challenging issues on the agenda, in particular the end game – deal or no deal – of the Iran nuclear negotiations.

WWS Reacts is a series of interviews with Woodrow Wilson School experts addressing current events.