Following a campaign epitomized by divisive rhetoric, political maneuvering and media manipulation that would have felt perfectly at home on the set of House of Cards, Benjamin Netanyahu was comfortably reelected as Israeli Prime Minister last week.
Above: Netanyahu celebrates the Likud party victory in the Israeli elections last week
Netanyahu’s campaign was fraught with controversy. His recent visit to the U.S, in which he dramatically warned Congress about the genocidal threat posed to Israel by the Iranian nuclear program, was widely criticized as a propaganda stunt to attract conservative voters back home (for a full analysis see my post from a fortnight ago). He courted accusations of racism for his warning to Likud supporters of the threat posed by Arab Israelis voting “in their droves”. Finally, in the closing hours of the election, he definitively disavowed his 2009 Bar-Ilan speech advocating a two-state solution to the Palestinian question, asserting that “anyone who moves to establish a Palestinian state and evacuate territory gives territory away to radical Islamist attacks against Israel.”
Many were quick to condemn Netanyahu’s political opportunism. President Obama, who has been an increasingly vocal critic of the Israeli Prime Minister in recent months, told the Huffington Post that Netanyahu’s warnings about Arab Israeli voters threatened “to erode the meaning of democracy in the country”, with another reporter likening the comments to an American president “warning the white electorate that black voters were heading to the polls in “large numbers.” \
President Obama, in another interview, also questioned Netanyahu’s commitment to peace, warning New York Times reporters that his refusal to consider a two-state solution was making it “hard to find a path where people are seriously believing that negotiations are possible.” His concerns were echoed by British Prime Minister David Cameron during an address to the House of Commons on Monday, who asserted that he would continue to put pressure on Netanyahu to agree to a two-state solution, describing it as the only way to “achieve a lasting peace and to secure Israel’s long-term security and prosperity.” The increasingly regular criticisms levelled at Netanyahu by world leaders begs the question of whether the era of unconditional Western support for Israel may be drawing to a close.
Equally, Netanyahu’s continuingly vocal opposition to the ongoing talks with Iran regarding their nuclear program risks further estranging Israel from her Western allies and fanning the flames of discontent in the Middle East more generally. Reports this week accused Israel of spying on the international negotiations and using the intelligence gathered to persuade Congress to oppose the talks. If true, this represents an unprecedented attempt to interfere in the internal affairs of the United States government, demonstrating an extraordinary lack of respect for President Obama’s authority. In what appears to be a desperate last-ditch attempt to derail the negotiations, Israeli officials travelled to France this week to voice further concerns about the potential deal. Shimon Stein, a former Israeli ambassador to Germany who has been briefed on the talks, described the move as “only natural” for a Prime Minister who has exhausted all other options, describing France as “the weak link in the group”. However, despite persistent Israeli interference, Iranian President Rouhani remained optimistic, asserting that “there is nothing that can’t be resolved.”
In a move that has come to typify Netanyahu’s unscrupulous leadership, the Prime Minister was quick to backtrack on his divisive comments on the eve of the election. Merely a few days had passed since his firm assertion that he would never support an independent Palestine, when he appeared on MSNBC, claiming that he is in fact in favor of “a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution.” He also apologized for his comments about Arabs voting in the election, stating that “it was not his intention” to cause offense and citing his support for humanitarian groups as evidence. However, Many Arab Israeli’s remained unconvinced; Emilie Moatti, a spokesperson for Arab opposition party Joint List, refused to accept Netanyahu’s apology, claiming that “unfortunately Netanyahu and his government’s racism did not begin and end with that incendiary statement,” describing it as an “empty gesture intended to enable his and his government’s continued racist governance.”
Whether genuine or not, Netanyahu’s flip-flop on such an important and controversial issue is bound to have repercussions; those who were lured into voting by the original comment will feel instantly betrayed, while Arab Israelis will be left wondering whether they can truly trust a Prime Minister who will clearly go to extreme lengths to hold on to power. Netanyahu’s willingness to manipulate the media to his own ends, his disturbing tendency to interfere himself in the affairs of other states and his clear disregard for the Arab population that makes up 20% of the Israeli population, all suggest a career politician with little respect for the voting public. Perhaps comparisons to Kevin Spacey’s brilliantly portrayed Frank Underwood are not far off the mark.
A fully cited version of this post is available at www.elnawamis.wordpress.com