Magnanimity in victory

Although Netanyahu benefited from the numbers that he got from the rightwing nationalists and the ultra-Orthodox community, he needs to include the rest of Israel, even those who didn’t vote for him.

March 23, 2015 21:21
4 minute read.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures during his victory speech at Likud headquarters

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures during his victory speech at Likud headquarters. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)


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Benjamin Netanyahu won a decisive victory in the Israeli elections last week but he must not allow the win to go to his head. Netanyahu must face the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran, a de-legitimized Israel and a very angry President Barack Obama, who, with two years left in his presidency, is engaged in an intense cold war with Netanyahu.

Although Netanyahu benefited from the numbers that he got from the rightwing nationalists and the ultra-Orthodox community, he needs to include the rest of Israel, even those who didn’t vote for him. Netanyahu has a lot of responsibilities now and many of them may require compromise. In the past two or three days before the election when it looked like Netanyahu was going to lose, he pulled out all the stops, proclaiming that there will not be a Palestinian state on his watch.

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On election day, he tweeted that the Arab voters were being bused in by foreign money. It’s absolutely their right to vote and every other party was using buses to bring out the vote. This statement was immoral and undemocratic.

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Netanyahu should immediately apologize because his statement is going to poison the atmosphere for a long time both with the 20% Arab minority in Israel and with the international community. Already, White House press secretary John Earnest has condemned Netanyahu’s statements roundly.

Right now things are falling apart very quickly in the region and the issue of a Palestinian state is not relevant, which is why Netanyahu’s statement was counter- productive. He should have said that statehood remains an option but there are other big things going on in the region right now that require his attention. The Arab League wrote off Netanyahu’s statements as “electioneering” and appear to be cautiously unperturbed by them.

Many of the votes that Netanyahu received in the past couple of days before the election came from people on the Right, like the Bayit Yehudi Party. Now, Netanyahu owes these voters, which is why he said we’re not going to have a Palestinian state – but he should be careful.

It might sound counter-intuitive, but Netanyahu should offer a settlement freeze in the West Bank (but not in Jerusalem), because he must create the conditions that will provide Israel with European and American support if, for example, Israel chooses to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Netanyahu must also take into account the ongoing fight to delegitimize Israel.

European countries are preparing to leverage even more economic sanctions against Israel and in the US, universities are experiencing a dramatic uptick in Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) protests coupled with anti-Semitic acts.

Only weeks ago, the White House said that Netanyahu “would pay” for his address to the US Congress. Now that the election is over, the regime change that Obama hoped for did not come to pass, despite allegations that the “anything but Bibi” campaign was paid for by US State Department.

Had Netanyahu lost the Israeli election, it would have lead to total humiliation of the Republicans in Congress who invited him to speak. Instead, the Republicans are vindicated by the victory and Netanyahu’s speech became a rallying cry for not giving in to appeasement on Iran. Republicans will now be expected to shield Israel from Obama’s fury.

For years now, we have heard that Israel may on its own initiative knock out the nuclear infrastructure in Iran. There has been lot of speculation in the past year about whether Netanyahu has the support of the general staff of the IDF and the Mossad for such a strike. For this undertaking, Israel must have a solid domestic consensus.

That may involve a national unity government that would perhaps appoint the former head of the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate, Amos Yadlin, as defense minister. Having Yadlin, no slouch on Iran, as defense minister would give Netanyahu a wall-to-wall green light if such a move were contemplated.

A national unity government must face the worst-case scenario, which we are now witnessing: The barbaric Islamic State (IS) onslaught, the ongoing war in Syria (which is being waged by Iran with the help of Hezbollah), more gains in Yemen and terrible brutality in Nigeria. In a documentary that aired on Russian state television in the midst of a mysterious 10-day absence, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that during the Russian takeover of Crimea last year, he put Russian nuclear forces on alert. Last week, according to sources, Putin put the Russian military on full alert with war games and drills in the Arctic Circle.

Benjamin Netanyahu is a man of many skills but in Israeli politics, inclusiveness has not historically been one of them.

Israel now faces unprecedented threats and Netanyahu faces unprecedented challenges.

The author is a former Senior Producer of CNN’s Jerusalem bureau for twenty plus years and is currently working on a documentary film about anti-Semitism called Blame it on the Jews.

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