Israelis have given Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu a fifth term. Last Tuesday, his Likud party won 36 of the Knesset’s (parliament’s) 120 seats, main rival Blue & White 35. President Reuven Rivlin will call on Bibi to form a coalition government. So?
Bibi was all about security and Israel as a Jewish state. Last weekend, he promised to extend Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank. That would kill a two-state solution. (Disclosure: It’s long been dead. The Palestinian “right to return” would upend the Israeli nation.)
My cousin Lisa Bennett, who lives in a Tel Aviv suburb, supported her cousin Naftali Bennett’s New Right party. She comments: “The biggest Israeli dilemma is defining the core values of the country.” The overwhelming consensus: Israel should be Jewish and democratic. But what if only one value can be selected? “Ultimately, the majority of the country feels that being a Jewish state remains our top priority.”
Bibi received support from Donald Trump, whom many Israelis love. Trump’s soon-to-be-revealed peace plan, authored by son-in-law Jared Kushner, supposedly will herald a great new era in Israeli-Palestinian relations. (Disclosure: Not likely.)
A week ago, Trump made a “snap decision” to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, taken from Syria during 1967’s Six-Day War. Syrian artillery looked down on Israel’s Hula Valley and fired at will on Israeli towns and roads. The threat from Syrian and Iranian forces would be intolerable.
But recognizing Israeli occupation of the Golan pending a peace deal with Syria—how will that happen?— is a far cry from making a diplomatic leap regarding sovereignty and igniting the next potential firestorm. More than a self-professed “instant history lesson” is required for an American president to construct a Middle East policy.
As to Netanyahu, the Israeli journalist Shmuel Rosner points out that Bibi has never been wrong about security issues. For example, he opposed pulling out of Gaza. (Disclosure: I did not.) Israelis acknowledge Bibi’s security bona fides, and “this goes not just for voters for the Likud party, or even the right-wing parties that are expected to join Likud in the next government, but even for Blue and White, which largely echoed Mr. Netanyahu’s positions on important foreign policy and national security questions.”
Still, Israelis dislike much about Netanyahu. He may be indicted by attorney general Avichai Mandelblit on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He allied with racist parties and is outspoken in his attacks on Israeli Arabs. And security may be more challenging than Israelis think. The journalist Ari Shavit warns that Bibi has “provided short-term profits at a very high long-term price. Netanyahu’s Israel is mortgaged. And we are going to pay dearly.”
Democracy, as Lisa hints, may be a casualty if Bibi continues attacking Israel’s supreme court and media. His wooing far-right and ultra-orthodox parties positions non-orthodox Jews in Israel and the Diaspora—definitely including women—as second-class. (Disclosure: That includes me as a member of a Reform congregation; the Reform movement is North America’s largest.) All this could widen the pronounced gap between Israel and a significant part of the American Diaspora, often misinformed but legitimately concerned about the rights of Jews—and Arabs.
So Bibi marches on. My prayer: He won’t march Israel off the end of a cliff.
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