The outcomes of the Israeli elections are a great personal victory for Benjamin Netanyahu, who, a few days ago, was already dismissed by pundits as a relic of the past. Indeed, this is a double victory: Not only will Netanyahu be able to form a stable, right-wing government, but his government will also be able to address a major grievance of the Israelis in recent years — the socioeconomic one.
Since the Six Day War, there has been in Israel an ongoing tension between maintaining the state’s security and the need to advance socioeconomic issues. The common wisdom was that security always prevails. However, the social unrest in 2011, when hundreds of thousands took to the street to protest the rising cost of living, seems to have changed that. A new party, Yesh Atid, led by Yair Lapid, was created to funnel the frustration of the protesters into mainstream politics. Lapid’s tenure as finance minister, however, produced a mixed response.
Come the new star, Moshe Kahlon, who, as minister of communications before, succeeded in dramatically reducing the rates of cellular calls, and now promises to repeat that miracle with the prices of housing. By giving Kahlon finance and making him the housing tsar, Netanyahu will reassure Israelis that he is sincerely tuned to their aspirations.
If this stroke of political mastery is not enough, then Netanyahu, by singlehandedly running a campaign of fear in the last days before election day, warning that the left was about to take over, managed to snatch many voters from the parties which had outflanked him from the right: Habayit HaYehudi (The Jewish Home) of Naftali Bennet and Yisrael Beiteinu (Our Israel) of Avigdor Liberman. The result is that unlike the previous government, where the Likud, not a big party itself, was held hostage by medium-sized parties, Netanyahu’s Likud today is towering over its potential coalition partners, meaning much greater control and stability.
However, with all due respect to the socioeconomic issues and the stability of the coalition, Netanyahu’s new government will still have to address the vital strategic challenges of Israel: The volatile Middle East, the immediate threats of Hamas and Hezbollah, nuclear Iran and the so-called peace process with the Palestinians.
Many Israelis, myself included, feel that Netanyahu has failed in dealing with each and every one of the abovementioned issues. However, Tuesday night’s results clearly show that we are in a minority. That’s the beauty of democracy. It appears, then, that on all these fronts Israel will carry on as before.
The problem is that if worse comes to worst, on three out of the four issues there are certain military responses available. Not so with the Palestinian question. Without a bold move in this arena, Israel will eventually become one binational state, where it either loses its Jewish identity or its democracy, or both. Netanyahu, who during the campaign renounced his 2009 acceptance of a Palestinian state, will not have the luxury of ignoring this burning matter. Either he embraces the 2002 Arab league proposal for a comprehensive regional peace, or he will face growing pressure from the world community, probably encouraged by a frustrated President Obama.
As someone who didn’t vote for Netanyahu, I nevertheless pray that he surprises me, this time not with strokes of his political expertise, but with a show of statesmanship. Israel desperately needs that. Doing nothing, like before, won’t be enough anymore.
(Uri Dromi is executive director of the Jerusalem Press Club. He was the spokesperson of the Rabin and Peres governments (1992-96) and was the chief education officer of the Israeli Air Force. This article was first published in Focus Germany.)