What Does Netanyahu’s Victory Mean? We Get 6 Views

BY Elise Garofalo and Larisa Epatko  January 22, 2013 at 5:05 PM EDT


Supporters of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu react as results come into campaign headquarters in Tel Aviv. Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party appeared to eke out a win in Tuesday’s elections, according to exit polls, the Associated Press reported. We asked six analysts about what another Netanyahu-led government would mean for Israel and beyond.



David Makovsky

Ziegler distinguished fellow and director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy

Israeli election exit polls returns have given the United States more breathing room

Photo courtesy of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy

in renewing peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, since the Likud party of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu may have come in first, but along with right-wing and religious allies, this bloc is only on the bubble in terms of being able to configure a 61-member majority in the next Knesset. This gives room to center-left parties, who pressed a variety of issues in the campaign including those related to the economy, education and induction of the ultra-orthodox into some form of mandatory civilian or military service, to have more of a voice in the next government of Israel.

While the Rubik’s cube of Israeli politics permits many configurations that are likely to lead to protracted post-election bargaining, the net impact is that a broader coalition may provide more openings as part of a renewal of peace negotiations with the Palestinians. To be fair, it is unclear that Netanyahu himself wanted a pure right-wing government, but now its likelihood is receding anyway. While Netanyahu may just squeak through with such a composition, it would mean that every single party could threaten to bring him down in Israel’s parliamentary democracy if it did not get its way. This is not a recipe for stable governance, and not the way Netanyahu has governed in his last two terms.

Another incentive for a wider coalition is the biggest issue in play between Washington and Israel this year: Iran. Accordingly, Israel will need to prioritize relations with the Obama administration towards reaching a successful resolution. Having a broader-based government helps in this regard. First, it provides the necessary consensus for whatever position he takes if international diplomacy with Tehran fails. Second, Washington could try to get Israel to view negotiations with the Palestinians as insurance against those who may wish to stir trouble at a sensitive juncture in the Iranian nuclear impasse.

For example, U.S. Secretary of State-designate John Kerry may privately tell Israel that it can help keep the international community focused on Iran in part by doing everything in its power to get relations with the Palestinians back on track. More broadly, given all that is at stake for Israel regarding Iran, Washington could quietly urge Israel to create a coalition that fits the mission, not a mission that fits the coalition.


Shibley Telhami

Professor at the University of Maryland and non-resident senior fellow at the Saban Center of the Brookings Institution

As Binyamin Netanyahu is poised to form another Israeli government, the Obama administration can learn from its recent inability to influence Israeli politics and policy.

Frustrated by the policies of the Netanyahu government, the administration has

Photo by Dina Telhami

used a seemingly reasonable argument to persuade Israelis to stop constructing Israeli settlements in the territories occupied in the 1967 war and save the two-state solution: If Israel does not moderate its positions, it will have to choose between being democratic on the one hand, or Jewish on the other.

The president also warned that Israel would be further “isolated.” But this approach has neither worked (as the right wing in Israel is gaining) nor is it credible; at its worst, it conceals the primary reasons for Israel’s need to stop its settlement construction and end an occupation that has lasted more than 45 years: international laws and norms.

For one thing, Israelis will always think that they know what’s good for them — something that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was quick to note in responding to Mr. Obama’s reported warnings of dangers ahead. For another, in the shift to the right in Israeli politics, more Israelis identify themselves as Jewish first and Israeli second, and many are increasingly prepared to accept Jewishness over democracy.

The Obama administration, like other administrations, has in principle opposed Israeli settlements; it didn’t go quite as far the Carter administration — which had labeled settlements “illegal” — but did consider them “illegitimate.” But the pragmatic policy consideration in almost every administration since Carter has been that focusing on this issue may be counter-productive for the “peace process” which is aimed at ending occupation altogether as well as enhancing Israeli security.

But there has not been a credible peace process for years — and certainly no peace. And if Mr. Netanyahu moves to forge a new government with parties to his right instead of his left, the chance of any progress will be much smaller — even aside from the complications of the Palestinians’ own divisions.

So the Obama administration should start its new term not by lecturing Israelis about what’s good for them, but reminding them (and the Palestinians) of their obligations under international law and norms — as well as articulating what’s good for America.


Dore Gold

Former Israeli ambassador to U.N. and foreign policy adviser to prime minister

What is striking about the exit polls in the 2013 Israeli elections (which it must

Photo courtesy of Dore Gold

always be added are not final results) is the decline of foreign policy as a decisive political issue. The meteoric rise of Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party with an estimated 19 seats was largely propelled by domestic issues that frustrated many Israeli voters in recent years, like the demand that all sectors of Israeli society equally share the burden of the military draft.

Lapid’s platform on Israel’s negotiations with the Palestinians had elements that were actually close to Likud: insisting that Jerusalem not ever be divided and that Israel obtain “defensible borders” and not withdraw to the 1967 lines. Political insiders have reported on Israeli radio that a portion of Lapid’s new electoral bases came from former Likud voters, an important constituency that he presumably would not want to lose.

The one party that put the issue of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations at the top of its electoral agenda, Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah, only mustered 7 Knesset seats in the exit polls — a huge decline from the last election when she led the Kadima Party, which had 29 seats. The Israeli Labor Party, which came in third after Lapid, normally raised the banner of the peace process in its historical rivalry with Likud, but during this election season, it focused on issues related to social justice that were stressed by last year’s protest movement in Tel Aviv.

What these initial numbers tell us is that the Israeli people have not given up on peace, but they will want to be reassured by their leaders that any new agreements will leave them more secure and not more exposed to the vagaries of the Middle East today: from the rise of Muslim Brotherhood regimes around them to the threat that Iran will soon cross the nuclear threshold in the months ahead.


Rami Khouri

Journalist and editor with Palestinian-Jordanian and U.S. citizenship

The expected victory of an increasingly militant, right-wing, Likud-led government in Israel headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will quickly lead to heightened

Photo by Kelvin Ma

tensions between Israel and every one of its regional and global interlocutors — Palestinians, other Arabs, Turks, Iranians, Europeans and the American government. The only exception will be that small band of right wing zealots and pro-Israel lobbyists in the United States who often put rightist Israeli views above American interests, and will find themselves increasingly isolated and criticized.

A new Netanyahu-led rightwing government will usher in an end to any serious attempts to negotiate a two-state resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. We should expect several consequences. Tensions will rise with democratizing Arab neighbors whose governments will more faithfully reflect Arab public opinion that dislikes Netanyahu’s policies. Foreign governments are likely to publicly criticize and pressure Israel more as they become exacerbated by Netanyahu’s extremism in his settlements policy and rejection of equal Palestinian-Israeli national rights as the basis of a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Palestinians themselves in Israel, the occupied territories and neighboring Arab countries will take his re-election as a cue to explore much more dynamic resistance policies, probably using non-violent civil disobedience and legal challenges as main options.

Many people and organizations among Israel’s principal political partners — Palestinians, other Arabs, Europeans and Americans — will also likely react to Netanyahu’s continued extremism and criminal expansion of settlements by increasing the intensity of the expanding “boycott, divestment and sanctions” initiative that seeks to equate Israeli policies with the legacy of the former Apartheid regime in South Africa.

Except for some Christian Zionist messianic fanatics, pro-Israeli lobby extremists, and politically terrorized Congressmen and women in Washington, most of the world will react negatively to Netanyahu’s victory — unless he proves to be a Mikhail Gorbachev or an F.W. de Klerk figure, acknowledges that his aggressive policies are doomed, and makes a historic reversal by coming to terms with the dictates of both reality and justice. That seems unlikely, so Israel and its interlocutors are in for a rough ride.


Michele Dunne

Director of Middle East programs, Atlantic Council

U.S. President Obama most likely was neither surprised nor delighted to learn that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has been returned to office. The

Photo courtesy of the Atlantic Council

handwriting has been on the wall for months that the alliance of Netanyahu’s Likud Party and the rightist Israel Beiteinu would outperform the disorganized center and leftist parties. For Obama, this has to feel like a recurring bad dream, as Netanyahu’s election in February 2009 torpedoed the president’s efforts to revive Israeli/Palestinian peace negotiations in his first term, leading to a great deal of tension between the United States and Israel.

For better or worse, these two leaders are stuck with each other. The question now is whether President Obama can regain Israeli cooperation in order to manage Iran’s nuclear ambitions, deal with the ripple effects of Syria’s implosion, contain the growth of West Bank settlements, and undertake diplomacy with the Palestinians. The latter might well be necessary during Obama’s second term, as the uneasy status quo that has held since the limited Palestinian civil war of 2007 — with the secular nationalist government of President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad governing the West Bank while the Islamist movement Hamas controls Gaza — might well give way, creating instability that would necessitate U.S. diplomacy.

President Obama should visit Israel during the next year, not to conciliate Netanyahu, but to persuade Israelis more broadly that he has their best interests at heart but that they must compromise with neighbors and cooperate with the United States in order to build regional peace and stability. A properly constructed visit would buck up Israeli politicians in the beleaguered center and include a visit to the Palestinian territories to bolster a moderate leadership that justifiably feels abandoned by the United States.


Arad Nir

International commentator and foreign editor at Channel 2 News – Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will make all efforts to form a center-right coalition but don’t expect anything to change.

Based on the most resent polls, Netanyahu will have some options to negotiate a

Photo courtesy of Channel 2 News – Israel

coalition with parties from the center of Israeli politics. He thus would make all effort to exhaust these options before he turns to the obvious extreme right coalition. Netanyahu realizes the international implications of an extreme right coalition and the difficulties it will form at home. He will thus try to dilute the extreme factors within his Likud party with more subtle partners.

Nevertheless, even if by the end of the day he will have no other option but to form an extreme right government, there is a slim chance that we will see a different political conduct than what we saw in his last four years in office. He will continue to approach the unavoidable in the most pragmatic manner, like the agreement he reached with Hamas to stop the rockets being launched from Gaza, like the deal he made earlier with Hamas to release Gilad Shalit in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners, most of them convicted for acts of terror.

The issues that will not be tagged “urgent” will have to wait with all due respect.

In his last four years in office, Netanyahu became the master of political survival and this is what he will remain.

As long as the new coalition government will allow him to.

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