Israeli election results and analysis

Here are four different analyses of the recent election results in Israel and how this affects the path to peace and justice in Palestine and Israel.

Israel: Netanyahu re-election has left two-state solution ‘in ruins’

By Jeremy Moodey, writing in Christian Today, 18th March.


The two-state solution to the Palestine-Israel conflict is “in ruins” thanks to the re-election of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, according to the head of a leading Christian charity.

Netanyahu won a surprise victory in Israel’s election yesterday after tacking hard to the right in the final days of campaigning, including abandoning a commitment to negotiate a Palestinian state.


In a four-day pre-election blitz, Netanyahu made a series of promises designed to shore up his Likud base and draw voters from other right-wing and nationalist parties, including a pledge to go on building settlements on occupied land and saying that there would be no Palestinian state if he is re-elected.


He is almost certain to form the country’s next government.


However, according to Jeremy Moodey, the chief executive of Embrace the Middle East, while the election was fought mainly on social and economic issues and Iran’s nuclear programme, “the Palestinian problem is the most existential one facing the State of Israel”. Netanyahu, he said, “has now openly declared what many of us believed was always his policy, which is that he would never allow a Palestinian state to be established. This leaves the commitment of the United States and EU to a negotiated two-state solution in ruins.”


The result could be Israel’s further isolation, calls for boycott, disinvestment and sanctions and accusations that Israel has become a ‘rogue’ state, Moodey warned.


In a statement, Likud said Netanyahu intended to form a new government within weeks, with negotiations already under way with the pro-settler Jewish Home party led by Naftali Bennett, as well as with religious groups.

The critical party to get on side will be centrist Kulanu, led by former Likud member Moshe Kahlon, who won 10 seats, making him a kingmaker given his ability to side with either Netanyahu or the center-left opposition.

“Reality is not waiting for us,” Netanyahu said. “The citizens of Israel expect us to quickly put together a leadership that will work for them regarding security, economy and society as we committed to do – and we will do so.”



If he manages to pull together a workable coalition, it would give Netanyahu a fourth-term in office, putting him on track to become Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, a label held by the country’s founding father, David Ben-Gurion.

While Likud is the largest party, the process of forming a coalition is likely to be difficult. It needs 61 seats in the Knesset and crossing that threshold will be challenging given the amount of division across Israel’s political landscape.
Netanyahu’s victory is also likely to prolong the country’s testy relationship with US President Barack Obama, especially after his strident words on settlements and his backing away from the long-stated international goal of arriving at a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


Despite the numbers stacking up in Netanyahu’s favor, Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog said “everything is still open” and that he already had spoken to party leaders about the possibility of forming a government, although the arithmetic for him is much harder to achieve than for Netanyahu.


During much of the campaign, Netanyahu had focused on security issues and the threat from Iran’s nuclear program, a message that appeared to gain little traction with voters.


The Zionist Union’s focus on socio-economic issues, including the lack of housing and the high cost of living in Israel, appeared to be generating much more momentum, at least as far as opinion polls went.


But Netanyahu’s tack to the right, playing up fears of the spread of Islamist groups, promising no concessions to the Palestinians and raising alarm about growing support for Arab-Israeli parties looks to have spurred his base into action.


From the Palestinian point-of-view, the results are a deep concern, raising the prospect of more settlement expansion on land they want for their own state in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as in Gaza.

If Netanyahu follows through on his pledges it would put him on a collision course with the Obama administration and the European Union, which has been weighing steps including trade measures to sanction Israel for its settlements policy.


The Palestinians will formally become members of the International Criminal Court from April 1 and have said they will pursue war crimes charges against Israel over its 48-year occupation of the West Bank and last year’s Gaza war.


Pre-empting those steps, Israel has suspended the transfer of tax revenue it collects on the Palestinians’ behalf, holding back around $120 million a month. That has crippled the Palestinian budget and led to deep pay cuts for state workers.


Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator in peace talks with Israel that collapsed in April, told Reuters it appeared Netanyahu would form the next government.


Citing the Israeli leader’s rejection of a Palestinian state, Erekat said: “Mr Netanyahu has done nothing in his political life but to destroy the two-state solution.”



A Moment of Clarity: Mobilize Churches Now for Israeli-Palestinian Peace

By Robert Owen Smith*, 19th March.


This week has provided a moment of clarity regarding the Israeli-Palestinian struggle. The clarity provided by the Israeli electorate’s support of Benjamin Netanyahu’s intransigence opens up new vistas of political and international diplomatic possibility. In this article, I lay out the Israeli political implications, the options ahead of both Palestinian and western governments, and how churches, as part of civil society can contribute toward peace with justice in this new, clarifying context.


Now that the dust is beginning to settle from the Israeli election of new Knesset members, it appears very likely that Benjamin Netanyahu will again be able to form a governing coalition. Given the polling leading up to election day and the press interest in the possibility of his defeat, the resounding victory of Likud can be viewed as giving Netanyahu a clear mandate for each of his campaign commitments. First and foremost among those commitments is security, including continued work to prevent any diplomatic deal for Iran to develop civilian nuclear infrastructure.


Through its preference of Likud, Labor (in the form of the ‘Zionist List’), and Yesh Atid as the largest parties (not including the Israeli Arab ‘Joint List’), the Israeli electorate demonstrated its collective disregard for the so-called ‘Palestinian question.’ Israeli citizens are concerned with national security and personal economic prosperity. Collectively, the electorate has moved beyond the occupation of Palestinian territory as a concern. It is a concern only for those who promote civilian settlement in the territories and the eventual annexation of land. During the final days of his campaign, Netanyahu broke to the ideological right and blatantly pandered to those voters by 1) warning them against enthusiastic Arab participation in the democratic process, and 2) promising that there would be no Palestinian state created under his leadership.


All of this has provided a great deal of clarity in political and diplomatic spheres surrounding Israeli interest in ending Israeli occupation and normalizing relationships with its neighbors. In short, in reelected Netanyahu, the Israeli electorate has signaled that it has no immediate interest in either goal. Netanyahu has been rewarded domestically for his international intransigence, including his combative relationship with “Hussein Obama” (as President Obama was named during a Likud campaign robo-call).


The question now is how this moment of clarity regarding Israeli intentions will be received in the international community, especially by Palestinian political leadership, within the European Union, and within the Obama Administration. The secondary question is how civil society organizations that wish to contribute toward building peace with justice—churches not least among them—can do so within this new climate.


Already, we have seen announcements from the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization that they intend to continue and intensify their efforts to gain recognition of statehood through engagement with international organizations. These include continued efforts to upgrade status at the United Nations and to gain full membership in the International Criminal Court. Palestinian leaders feel that Netanyahu’s campaign rhetoric has completely validated their avoidance of direct negotiations with the State of Israel since they apparently have no partner for peace.


The Obama Administration has been reassessing its options since before the election. They have no doubt been operating with a set of possible scenarios keyed to various election outcomes. While they were likely hoping for a Labor-dominated coalition and premiership, Netanyahu’s return to the helm has provided clarity for them as well. Already, the Administration has expressed disappointment in the anti-Arab, racist tone of the Likud campaign; President Obama will not congratulate Netanyahu until the coalition is finalized and Netanyahu again is named Prime Minister. In the meantime, the White House is leaking to various media outlets its intention to reframe the field of negotiations.


Already, a “senior White House official” has told the New York Times (see the Ha’aretz report here) that the US could lend its support to a new UN Security Council resolution defining the principle of a two-state solution on Israel’s 1967 borders, with mutually agreed land swaps. The US has vetoed such efforts in the past. “The premise of our position internationally has been to support direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” the official told the Times. “We are now in a reality where the Israeli government no longer supports direct negotiations. Therefore we clearly have to factor that into our decisions going forward.” The article also stated that President Obama will transfer responsibilities for dealing with Jerusalem to Secretary of State John Kerry while U.S.-Israel security ties would be passed to the U.S. Department of Defense. This is a significant downgrade of relationships indicating a normalization of relationship between the US and the State of Israel.


The Obama Administration has several possible paths toward imposing a resolution of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories rather than waiting for fruit to be borne from Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.


First, US plans could include an attempt to restart negotiations by laying out the specific US vision of a workable final-status agreement. If the US were to put such a plan on the table (it most certainly already exists), negotiations would be on the basis of that plan rather than bilaterally between Israel and Palestine. The inclusion of consequences for backing away from elements of that vision could provide sufficient incentive.
Either subsequent to those negotiation efforts or in parallel, the Obama Administration could take important steps at the UN Security Council. This is what is already being hinted at in the press. There are two basic options at the UN. Either the US decides to lay back and let the EU take the lead, offering an abstention to the forthcoming resolution, or the US takes a highly active role in crafting a resolution which reframes the entire debate. The opportunity here is to a) produce a resolution that can be fully backed by the US, and b) create a new international legal foundation (superseding resolutions 242 and 338 and dismantling Israeli arguments against the applicability of those resolutions to current realities).


It should be clear by now that this moment of clarity provided by the Israeli electorate’s support of Netanyahu’s intransigence opens up new vistas of political and international diplomatic possibility. His reelection, if viewed in the medium- to long-term, provides an opportunity for sufficient international pressure to bring some level of normality to Israel, Palestine, and, as a result, the Middle East. The problem, however, is ensuring that there is sufficient political will for the EU and the US to exercise those diplomatic options.


This is where civil society comes in. While we can speak in terms of international civil society, these matters are best addressed in each political locale. Just as Netanyahu has been returned to office based on the perceptions and will of his own electorate, the political will of European and American leaders will be determined not by the ideals of human rights and international law, but the vagaries of their own contexts.



So what can the churches do?


First, we need to be highly self-confident. We need to know beyond all doubt that we are advocating for the flourishing of all human communities in Israel, in Palestine, and in the Middle East. We are not engaging in these questions as an ideological exercise, but as a response to our faith. Our governments can no longer allow the present situation to remain. We seek an agreement leading to two sovereign states living side-by-side, with mutually agreed borders, including a shared Jerusalem. Such an agreement is difficult, but by no means impossible.


Second, we need to know that our governments are eager to do the right thing. This is a clarifying moment that may not present itself for some time. Until now, even Netanyahu has hidden behind a veneer of negotiations. That veneer has vanished. All members of the Quartet been abused by Netanyahu and wish to act; but they must act prudently and effectively, not rashly. Time, however, is limited. Civil society can encourage the actions governments are already willing to take.


Third, we need to understand our practical role as providing political protection. While we have very clear ideals, commitments, and relationships, those ideals are only part of an overall political picture. In the US context, the Obama Administration has already been challenged on its ability to conduct foreign policy in the Middle East; the Republican-dominated US Congress is eager to be informed by their ideological friend, Netanyahu. Steps toward normalizing relations with the State of Israel, and encouraging Israel to normalize relationships with its neighbors, including a State of Palestine, will be met with far greater political resistance. Civil society actors who wish to see that process take place will need to mobilize in ways that demonstrate engaged, informed constituencies standing behind those efforts. Otherwise, we are politically irrelevant.


Finally, we need to be clear that the conflict is not only political; it is, additionally, cultural and theological. Western Christian theology has long been mobilized to provide benefit to even the most oppressive and harmful policies of the State of Israel. As churches, we are in a clarifying moment to re-state and re-articulate our theological commitments to peace with justice in a way that honors our relationships and responsibilities not just to Palestinians Christians and their Palestinian neighbors, but to Jews and Muslims as well. We must explicitly stand against the imperial theology of Christian Zionism and its thwarting of any effort toward normalization and peace. Here again, we must be clear in our commitments and clear in our message.


The churches, as part of international and local civil society, have an opportunity to shape political discourse and to encourage leaders to take steps that will lead to peace with justice. The Israeli election has provided a moment of clarity and possibility that will not likely emerge again within the next few years. Make this one count.
*Rev. Robert O. Smith, PhD, is Academic Director for the Jerusalem Global Gateway of the University of Notre Dame and co-moderator, with Dr. Muna Mushahwar, of the Palestine-Israel Ecumenical Forum of the World Council of Churches. He is the author of More Desired than Our Owne Salvation: The Roots of Christian Zionism (Oxford, 2013), and editor, with Göran Gunner, of Comprehending Christian Zionism: Perspectives in Comparison (Fortress, 2014).


Binyamin Netanyahu’s victory means we must recognise the state of Palestine

After Israeli elections this is the only way to safeguard two-state solution


By Sir Vincent Fean, writing in the Irish Times. 19th March.


Hello again to Binyamin Netanyahu as prime minister of Israel. He came clean on the eve of the polls, opposing the existence of the state of Palestine alongside Israel.


He has driven a coach and horses through the considered policy of the international community. Peace will come in the Holy Land only when those two states live side by side in peace and security. What should we do?


Recognise the state of Palestine now, as the Irish Senate and Dáil have recommended. It is the only way to safeguard the two-state solution to the long-term benefit of Israelis and Palestinians – and to uphold our own values and our own interest.


Netanyahu’s Likud Party never supported the two-state solution – but for the past six years and until this week, Netanyahu said he did, though his actions belied his words. He maintained the blockade of Gaza, and systematically built more illegal settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank – a war crime, and what the Palestinians have described as eating the cake while discussing with them how to share it.


Now, evidently, there is to be no discussion . . . Netanyahu will again form a coalition with the pro-settler party of Naftali Bennett, who coarsely calls the Palestinians “shrapnel in the butt”. He advocates Israeli illegal annexation of the Palestinian countryside, including the Jordan Valley, in the same way Israel annexed East Jerusalem illegally after the 1967 war. Netanyahu’s main opponent in the election, Zionist Union’s Isaac Herzog, will lead the opposition.


The Arab citizens of Israel, 20 per cent of the population, voted in unprecedented numbers (“in droves”, said Netanyahu) and won 14 seats in the parliament of 120. They too will oppose Netanyahu’s stated policies, which risk perpetuating the unacceptable status quo or even creating a “Greater Israel” in which Palestinians inevitably will be victims of an apartheid system.


The Palestinian people have the right to a state based on 1967 lines – a right which Netanyahu seeks to deny. They have the right to self-determination, as the European Union confirmed unanimously as long ago as 1999. They have a political leadership – the PLO under Mahmoud Abbas – which has recognised the state of Israel and is committed to non-violence. Those facts have not changed.


Flawed US peace effort

At least things are now clear. Recently Martin Indyk, secretary of state John Kerry’s chief negotiator in the valiant but flawed US peace effort of 2013-14, asked about Netanyahu “Was he just pulling our leg?” throughout that nine-month period of intensive Kerry shuttle diplomacy. Now we know. So what do we do?


We need to reject a few myths. One is “We can’t want a solution more than the parties to this conflict”. Yes we can. We can and do want the just and equitable solution – two states living side by side in mutual security, with parity of esteem and mutual respect. That outcome is consistent with the values we uphold, and with our own interest to resolve a conflict in which we (the West) face the accusation of double standards. We should act in aid of that solution. Now, we need to act to save it, for it is in clear and present danger.


Another myth is “Leave it to the two parties to sort it out”. That was never a runner, given the vast disparity in power between them. Israel controls the land, sea and air of Palestine.


A third myth is that the United Nations has no role in resolving this conflict. What we need is what Kerry did not do (because Netanyahu was averse) – to agree unanimously a UN Security Council resolution establishing the framework and timeline for the two-state outcome we seek.

Certainly, we need the United States – essential, but not sufficient alone to deliver an agreed peace. We need the collective will of the UN, bringing together the US, the European Union and the Arab states, particularly Israel’s peace treaty neighbours Egyptand Jordan. Ireland, as a determined, highly credible advocate of the UN and major contributor to UN peacekeeping efforts, has a key part to play here.


Recognition of Palestine on 1967 lines is the logical step now for all states committed to an equitable two-state solution. Recognition serves three purposes: giving hope to the beleaguered would-be peacemakers in Ramallah, whose readiness to negotiate is so heavily criticised by Hamas and by mistaken advocates of futile violence; signalling to Israelis that there will indeed be a sovereign Palestinian state, so Israel’s leaders need to shape an agreement, not rule one out, and showing to the world and to ourselves that right matters more than might. Sweden showed the way when it recognised Palestine last October.


Equitable two-state solution
Here, too, is a role for Ireland, working with Sweden, France and other partners to bring the EU into play by forming a “group of the willing” – Europeans deciding to recognise Palestine now, on the basis of long-established EU policy for that equitable two-state solution.


What of my own country, you may well ask? I may yet be pleasantly surprised, but I expect no more than sincere expressions of concern from London before the May 7th general election. What the UK does then depends on how we vote – Labour, the Lib Dems, the Scottish National Party and the Greens see recognition as a Palestinian right, not a privilege. As do I. Vincent Fean was British consul general, to Jerusalem from 2010 until his retirement from the diplomatic service last year.


“Indeed” – Bibi Mk4 and the unraveling of the British Jewish consensus

By Micah’s Paradigm Shift, 20th March.


The night before the election there was this exchange with Benjamin Netanyahu.


Interviewer: “If you are prime minister, a Palestinian state will not be established?” Netanyahu: “Indeed”.


One word and the British Jewish consensus was blown to pieces.


Three days later, after winning a comprehensive victory for his Likud party and a fourth term as prime minister, Netanyahu had this apparent clarification for American television viewers:


“I don’t want a one-state solution. I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution, but for that circumstances have to change.”


In Britain, if you are a pro-Israel lobby group like We Believe in Israel, or BICOM or the Zionist Federation you have a tricky time ahead. If you are leading our religious or communal bodies from the United Synagogue to Liberal Judaism and of course the Board of Deputies, then you are now in a very serious fix.


Here’s why.


Bibi is back and this time he’s telling the truth.


And don’t be fooled by any apparent discrepancy between the two interviews.


When Bibi says “circumstances must change” he is in the realm of messianic times, that distant horizon when the moon and stars are aligned and all the Middle East is at glorious peace with itself. What Bibi means is that it ain’t gonna happen on his watch. It’s all of a piece with the stumbling blocks he put in front of John Kerry for a year but now Bibi is being honest about it.


Over the last few years it has been possible (just about) for Jewish communal leaders around the world, including Britain, to maintain the illusion that the Israeli government wanted to see peace and reconciliation with the Palestinian people.


Broadly speaking, this would be achieved through a two-state solution. Two states for two peoples, side by side.


This is what the British government wanted, what the rest of the EU wanted, what the United States wanted, what the United Nations wanted and what most Palestinians wanted. It’s also the position supported overwhelmingly by British Jews.


That consensus has allowed the Board of Deputies to develop a policy on Israel that they can comfortably ask every parliamentary candidate standing in Britain’s General Election in May to sign up to, so maintaining a broad cross party agreement on the issue.


The pro-Israel lobby groups in Britain have maintained the same two-state line. It makes everyone sound reasonable and fair and progressive and allows comfortable alignment with the Israeli government, all of the Westminster political parties and the vast majority of British Jews.

In reality things are not quite so straight forward.


When you scratch the surface of all this unanimity you quickly discover that there are vastly different ideas about what these two states should look like. Where would the capital of a Palestinian state be? What should happen to the Jewish Settlements and the exclusive resources that service them on the West Bank? How much control would a Palestinian state have over its own borders, airspace and internal security?


But to enable the consensus to hold together our communal and religious leaders (and the lobby leadership too) have deliberately avoided taking a clear public position on issues like the annexation of East Jerusalem, the expansion of the Settlements and the rights of Palestinian refugees. Instead of framing these issues as moral questions they have opted for tribalism. They have for decades abdicated ethical responsibility by saying that the brutal reality of a 50-year occupation is just detail to be negotiated by an Israeli government.


It’s a strategy that has created the appearance of community cohesion even if it lacks moral backbone and disregards Jewish ethical tradition.

But with Netanyahu’s new found honesty over the two-state solution the consensus in Britain is about to unravel. David Cameron might be happy to congratulate Netanyahu on his victory and overlook the racist tone of his campaign but Likud’s return to power has just sparked a huge crisis in British Jewry.


The Board of Deputies’ election manifesto is now at odds with what will soon be the official Israeli policy – no to two-states, or at best, ‘sometime never’. The same crisis goes for the current positions held by our main religious denominations and even the British pro-Israel lobby groups.

The question they must all face is whether to acknowledge the difference and adopt a critical stand against the Israeli government or realign with Bibi and open divisions with the British government, the opposition parties and indeed most British Jews.


So expect to see turmoil in the ranks of the Jewish establishment, some soul searching among the rank and file and a clear fracturing of publicly voiced Jewish opinions on Israel. And about time too.


However, if you have not locked yourself into uncritical support for Israel and you have preferred to follow a Jewish tradition that has informed universal human rights and international law, then Netanyahu Mk.4 leaves everything looking very much clearer.


The next few years will be easy to navigate.


Without considerable external pressure, both political and economic, Israel will not stop Settlement expansion, will not dismantle the separation wall, will not give up an inch of the Occupied Territories, will not end the siege of Gaza. It certainly will not sit down and negotiate a peace deal that looks remotely just to Palestinian eyes. Why should it while the rest of the world allows its behaviour to continue without cost or consequence? And God help the children of Gaza if Hamas dares to fire any more home-made rockets in the general direction of the most powerful army in the region.


But with Netanyahu finally putting the two-state solution six feet under, that necessary pressure is on the way.


It will come from European governments and it will come from grass roots activists. The pressure will undoubtedly include boycotts, divestment and sanctions. And those activists will increasingly include Jews. Not self-hating Jews but profoundly disillusioned Jews. It will come from Jews looking for a new kind of Jewish leadership and hoping to protect their democratic and ethical ideals and rescue what’s left of their Jewish heritage.


Mr. Netanyahu, thanks for showing us the way forward.

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