Patrick Smyth: Netanyahu will deliver on stonewalling instead of peace
‘He told the crowd he would work to take care of the welfare of all Israeli citizens’
‘The election had been called by Netanyahu not so much to steal a march on a rejuvenated opposition to his left but to strengthen his hand in dealings with cabinet allies to his right.’ Above: supporters of Benjamin Natanyahu cheer as they hear the first predictions of the Israeli election results. Photograph: Abir Sultan/EPA
When he took to the stage for his victory speech on Tuesday night, Binyamin Netanyahu invited pop singer Amir Benayoun to come up and join him. The way politicians do.
Netanyahu was being generous. He told the crowd that he would work to “take care of the welfare and security of all Israeli citizens”. Presumably that included the 20 per cent of its citizens who are Arab, a small attempt to row back on the extraordinary warning, widely decried as racist, that he had issued to voters two days beforehand: “Arabs are swarming to vote . . . ” Even the White House had described these comments as “deeply concerning”, “divisive” and inconsistent with Israeli/US shared values.
Maybe, as some were insisting, “Bibi” had overplayed his hand in a tactical move to win back hard-right support and was now showing the real face of a man committed to an inclusive Israel.
But then he invited Benayoun up to celebrate. The controversial singer is renowned for a recent song that played on fears of Arab street attacks, Ahmed Loves Israel, about an east Jerusalem Palestinian who imagines and revels in the idea of stabbing Jews. “Send a Jew to hell,” the song goes. “It’s true I’m scum, an ingrate, but I’m not to blame, I wasn’t raised on love. When you turn your back on me, I’ll shoot you in the back or stick an axe in you.”
The song caused uproar and saw Benayoun disinvited from a visit to the president, but Netanyahu, with the election already in the bag, knew what he was doing. Fear of Arabs plays well. They must be kept in their place. The election message was reiterated. No Palestinian state. More settlements. Bibi re-elected is not for turning.
After all the election had been called by him not so much to steal a march on a rejuvenated opposition to his left but to strengthen his hand in dealings with cabinet allies to his right, the pro-settler party of Naftali Bennett, Jewish Home, and Avigdor Lieberman’s nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu.
“You vote for a prime minister and get the parts,” a Netanyahu associate is reported to have explained. “You don’t buy a radio and get a car with it. You buy a car and get a radio. You vote Netanyahu and get Bennett and Kahlon with it.”
The resulting cabinet will probably look remarkably like the last: a strengthened Likud with a “gene pool” former party member on his left, a couple of religious parties, and reduced Bennett and Lieberman contingents. Plus ça change . . .
No real choiceNew York Times
Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy warns that “on Tuesday the foundations were laid for the apartheid state that is to come. If Netanyahu succeeds in forming the next government in his spirit and image, then the two-state solution will finally be buried and the struggle over the character of a binational state will begin. If Netanyahu is the next prime minister, then Israel has not only divorced the peace process, but also the world.”
The breach with the US and particularly Obama is also profound. Although the latter will continue to act as a best friend and guarantor of Israel’s security, the US will feel less and less constrained by Israel’s insistence that it should follow and back its every diplomatic posturing. It is already clear Netanyahu has lost the argument on a deal on Iran’s nuclear programme, and the New York Times reports the welcome news that the US may now be willing to back a UN security council resolution affirming a two-state solution in Palestine based on pre-1967 borders and agreed land swaps.
Internationally the ambiguous repudiation of a two-state solution is seen as bad faith and so is also likely to accelerate moves to recognise the Palestine state.
A stunning victory, yes. But for what? Israel voted for more of the same, for stonewalling instead of peace, for increasing isolation. And that’s what Netanyahu will deliver, despite denials. To which the world will say: “Prove it.” Words are no longer enough.