Netanyahu win dims peace hopes

Netanyahu win dims peace hopes

Benjamin Netanyahu’s return as Israel’s prime minister has triggered a wave of concern worldwide. It does not bode well for peace in West Asia or the future of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. His centre-right Likud Party’s victory in the general election – it has won 30 seats in the 120-seat Knesset and together with other right-wing parties will form the next government – was not expected and must be attributed to a clever election campaign by Netanyahu rather than to the quality of his governance.

Faced with poll ratings that were not in his favour, Netanyahu chose to play on the insecurities of the Israelis. He adopted a campaign that was decidedly bellicose; he promised that a Palestinian state would not be set up as long as he was Israel’s prime minister. His speeches were abusive of the Arabs. His blatant resort to the politics of fear helped galvanise his right-wing base and enabled him to overtake the frontrunner, the centre-left Zionist Union.

This will be Netanyahu’s fourth term as Israel’s prime minister and if he completes his full term, he will be the longest serving leader in the history of the Jewish state. Not many expect him to adopt more responsible positions on regional and international issues in his new term. He will do little to reach out to either the Iranians or the Palestinians. The building of new settlements on Palestinian land will continue.

Netanyahu has repeatedly clashed with Barack Obama on the Palestinian question as well as on nuclear talks with Iran. His fresh mandate could encourage him to thumb his nose at the US President. Will he work with Obama’s Republican critics to undermine a nuclear agreement with Iran? How the fraying US-Israel elections will unfold will be keenly watched across the world.

Interestingly, it isn’t just peaceniks who are worried about Netanyahu’s confrontationist policies. Israel’s security establishment has spoken up against the dangerous path he is treading. Over 200 top army and intelligence officers recently issued a statement warning that Netanyahu is frittering away Israel’s most valuable security asset – US support – with his confrontationist approach. This approach has heightened Israel’s isolation internationally.

With the US-brokered peace process running aground and the Netanyahu government unlikely to revive negotiations with the Palestinians, the latter can be expected to press ahead with unilateral steps towards independence, including filing charges against Israel at the International Criminal Court, and stepping up efforts to join international agencies. This will escalate tensions between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority.

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