sraeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has won re-election this week after an unexpectedly difficult campaign. While recent polls indicated he was in trouble, the ruling conservative Likud Party earned 30 out of the Knesset’s 120 seats, putting the party in a position to build a coalition government with right-wing and religious allies.
But it wasn’t an easy fight, and along the way Netanyahu reversed course and appeared to reject the possibility of a two-state solution (he has since backtracked) and warned Jewish Israelis to vote because Arab citizens were “coming out in droves to the polls”. It might prove a turning point for the normally cordial relationship between Israel and the West, particularly the United States.
“He has both youth and wisdom … and I think is in a position to achieve the security objectives of Israel, but also bring about historic peace. And I’m confident that he’s going to seize this moment. And the United States is going to do everything we can to be constructive, effective partners in this process”.
But that relationship began to unravel in 2014. While initially supportive of a two-state solution, in April 2014 Netanyahu began to raise concerns about Hamas and the military power of a future Palestinian state. October marked a turning point in Western public opinion, with Netanyahu calling the US restriction on the growth of Israeli settlements in the West Bank “against the American values”.
Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic was among the first to report on the chilly relations:
“This comment is representative of the gloves-off manner in which American and Israeli officials now talk about each other behind closed doors, and is yet another sign that relations between the Obama and Netanyahu governments have moved toward a full-blown crisis. The relationship between these two administrations — dual guarantors of the putatively ‘unbreakable’ bond between the U.S. and Israel — is now the worst it’s ever been, and it stands to get significantly worse after the November midterm elections”.
This is quite a contrast to the praise The Washington Post was singing in 2009, soon after Netanyahu was first elected.
“Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said [that] he is willing to support the creation of a Palestinian state, for the first time making a commitment that the United States, Europe and the Arab nations have pushed for since he took office … President Obama welcomed Netanyahu’s speech as an ‘important step forward’.”
Earlier this month, Netanyahu gave a speech to US Congress imploring Obama to block Iran’s sensitive nuclear program despite Obama publicly stating that he would not. This bold move right before the 2015 Israeli elections was another blow to the already strained US-Israel relations.
“It is hard to know what is more depressing: that Netanyahu went for the gutter in the last few days in order to salvage his campaign — renouncing his own commitment to a two-state solution with the Palestinians and race-baiting Israeli Jews to get out and vote because, he said, too many Israeli Arabs were going to the polls — or the fact that this seemed to work.”
John Klein from Time believes Netanyahu won the election by breeding hatred for Palestinians:
“That, of course, is why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ‘won’ the Israeli election. That is how he won the election even though there was a strong economic case against him, and people were tired of his ways, and about 200 former Israeli military and intelligence leaders publicly opposed his dangerously bellicose foreign policy. He won because he ran as a bigot.”
But Netanyahu still has some fans in the Western media. The Australian‘s Greg Sheridan wrote yesterday:
“[Netanyahu]’s prospects of leading a stable government are reasonable. That’s the best you can expect from an Israeli election.”