Netanyahu on shaky ground in bid for second term - GulfToday

Netanyahu on shaky ground in bid for second term

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.


Palestinian youth react to tear gas canisters fired by Israeli security forces in the occupied West Bank village of al-Eizariya. AFP

Israel’s second parliamentary election this year has taken the country back to square one: to political deadlock between sitting Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and challenger Benny Gantz. Netanyahu, who has served longest in the top job, is fighting for his political life and freedom.  He faces multiple charges of corruption and breach of trust which, if proven, could put him behind bars, making him the second Israeli premier to be jailed.  Ehud Olmert was the first. Gantz is striving to get rid of Netanyahu.

His Likud took 31 seats in the 120-member Knesset.  With its right-wing conservative religious and secular allies, which have 23 seats combined, the Likud falls short of a 61-member majority  and would need the support of hawkish Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel is our Home), which largely represents Russian immigrants, with 8 seats. He has conditioned his support on Netanyahu’s removal as Likud leader.  This being the case, Netanayhyu, who is determined to remain in power, has urged forming a national unity government with Gantz.  

Gantz, whose Blue and White bloc has 33 seats, should, in theory, be the first to be asked to head a “unity” government, either with the Likud, preferably minus Netanyahu, or with the Joint Arab List (13 seats) and two small “leftist” parties (11 seats).  This puts the Joint Arab List in a strong position

because Gantz cannot even contemplate forming a government without the Likud if he does not have the support of Palestinian citizens of Israel who have a host of issues to put before the Knesset.

To achieve such a coalition, Gantz also needs Lieberman, who has been dubbed the “king maker.”  A mercurial politician from the former Soviet republic of Moldova who lives in a West Bank colony, Lieberman has held the foreign and defence portfolios. A staunch secularist, he rejects Netanyahu because of his alliance with the Orthodox religious parties.

Palestinians know full well that Netanyahu and Gantz adopt similar policies but hope for change.  “Anyone but Netanyahu,” stated Raji Sourani, head of the Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights. He told Gulf Today in a telephone interview, “The situation will be less worse without Netanyahu. For him, we don’t exist, especially the people of Gaza.  In the last few weeks, he spoke about an attack on Gaza but the military objected.” Netanyahu rejects the 1993 Oslo Accord, which Palestinians thought would lead to statehood, and argues there can be “no Palestinian state.”  Netanyahu has exerted maximum pressure on Gaza with the aim of forcing Palestinians to leave and never return, Sourani said.

West Bank former minister, pollster and academic Ghassan Khatib stated, “Although there are no significant differences  between him and his opponent, Netanyahu  is more dangerous as he has joined forces with the most extreme factions in Israel, such as the radical Kahane movement.  Netanyahu is also very well connected on the international level with Trump and Putin.”

Netanyahu has made an enduring impact on the politics of Israel and the region. He has escalated Israeli colonisation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank; isolated, blockaded, and besieged Gaza; refused to negotiate with the Palestinian leadership; and threatened to annex Israel’s colonies and the Jordan Valley, 30 per cent of West Bank land. An ally of the current resident of the White House, Donald Trump, Netanyahu has celebrated US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and of the Golan as part of Israel and an end to US funding to the Palestinians.

Netanyahu is an ideologue bound by the militant rightist Revisionist Movement founded by Vladimir Jabotinsky who, inter alia, argued Israel must be surrounded by an “iron wall” for protection rather than make peace with its Arab neighbours. Netanyahu and his predecessors as leaders of the Likud bloc have translated Jabotinsky’s words into actions. Today Israel is enclosed in an “Iron Wall” comprising its army, military industrial complex, and nuclear weapons.

Israel has become the regional military hegemon.

Peace treaties concluded with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1996 and the 2002 Arab plan offering peace for Israeli withdrawal from Arab territory seized in 1967 count for little in Israel’s calculations whosoever forms the government.

The globally celebrated 1993 Oslo Accord reached with the Palestinians died due to Israel’s refusal to implement its terms and ever expanding colonisation of territory Palestinians require for their state. Israel’s total commitment to the 19th century Zionist vision of a Jewish state in the whole of Palestine (and whatever other territory Israel can conquer) has always prevailed over peace options.  This is true of “leftist” Labour governments as well as rightist Likud regimes.

Little was known about Gantz, a general turned politician, until early this year when he formed the Blue and White party with former Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon, a right-wing hardliner, and former Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who is regarded in Israel as centre-left. Gantz seeks to negotiate with the Palestinians although he is ambiguous on Palestinian statehood. He does not favour unilateral annexation of West Bank territory.  Gantz is also a secularist who wants to end the grip of conservative religious parties on Israeli life, which has tightened under Netanyahu due to his reliance on them and hard-line “nationalists” in his coalition governments.

Gantz has had a 38-year career in the military.  In 1999, he served as commander of Israeli forces in southern Lebanon while they came under attack by Lebanon’s Hizbollah fighters and he carried out Israel’s May 2000 retreat from Lebanon. He became chief-of-staff in 2011 and presided over Israel’s 2014 war on Gaza which killed 2,251 Palestinians, 65 per cent of them civilians, and devastated the coastal strip.  During the election campaign he boasted he had killed 1,364 Palestinian fighters during that war.  He is hardly a soft option but he is not Netanyahu.

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