Netanyahu’s Reliance on Nationalist Rhetoric and GOP Puts Israel In A Corner

Israel’s recent election was close, with Netanyahu pulling out every trick in his sleeve to appear as a defender of Israel’s security and best interests. His party, Likud, ended up winning the election in a last-minute surge. Likud won 30 seats, beating out a rival Zionist Union.

From claiming to be the voice of Israel and Jews across the world, to standing tough against Iran, and switching views last moment on the issue of the Palestinian state, Netanyahu has stolen the spotlight in an attempt to strengthen his image and that of Israel. It was a tactic to appear as a strong leader, dedicated to the concerns of the political right’s uncertainty of Iran and even possibly attempting to woo the left on living costs and settlement issues.

The government under Netanyahu has expanded settlement development in the West Bank dramatically, and has subsided living costs in order to attract more settlers. One of the top concerns from the political left in Israel has been rising costs which the Zionist Union had addressed during the campaign. Netanyahu’s anti Palestinian remark shortly before the election could have been a shot at promising future housing development and price reduction despite the comment aimed more towards the right.

Anti-Arab remarks were also deployed to create a last second surge of conservative votes for Likud. Shortly before the polls closed, a video on Netanyahu’s Facebook official page suggesting that leftists are bringing “huge amounts” of Israel’s Arab citizens to the polls to vote against his Likud party.

“‘The right regime is in danger, the Arab voters are coming in huge amounts to the polls,’ Netanyahu said. ‘The leftists are bringing them (Arabs) in huge amounts to polls using buses. … We have an urgent wake-up call.’ Arabs make up about 20% of Israel’s population. According to the early exit poll estimates, an Arab coalition ranked as the third largest party.” (CNN). A strong Arab force in the Knesset could undermine the Israeli right’s efforts to diminish any and all activity Palestine has made against Israel, as well as counter the current status of many Israeli-Arabs as second class citizens.

Netanyahu’s last-minute tactics have managed to work, and have led to Likud’s victory. However, his actions have backed him into a corner.

Netanyahu has been more of an ally to the Republican Party in America more than an ally to the White House. There has been a mutual working between Netanyahu and the GOP, as each hold similar views and goals in terms of international development. Both stand firmly against any concessions for Iran on the issue of nuclear power (regardless of information, intel, or any simple fact for that matter) and have portrayed the “wilderness” that is the Middle East as an unstable anti-Semitic nesting ground for radical ideologies. The GOP is Israel’s ticket to securing unconditional support during a crisis or any political or military move performed by Israel. While America’s two biggest political parties have no doubt been supportive of Israel, it has been the GOP (or at least majority of it) that has unquestionably supported Netanyahu’s agenda, as seen by his recent visit and speech to the House Republicans two weeks ago.

On the other side, Israel and Netanyahu have worked in favor for Republicans, as a reason for intervention in the Middle East and refusing to make substantial progress in any negotiations. Conservative Americans see the Republicans taking a hardline approach to Iran and Palestine as patriotic, protecting the nation, and instilling the values of freedom and democracy in the Middle East.

But the GOP’s strength is not as sound as it was a few years ago. The party has been fracturing along ideological lines, and complaints that the party is not conservative enough has created a migration from the party. On top of recent developments (Tom Cotton’s letter to Iran, House Republicans going against the White House on inviting Netanyahu), there is not as much stable ground for Republicans as there was even just six months ago. Their foreign policy has been questionable and the gridlock between Democrats and the White House has spurred agitation (with some still rooting for their tough stance on issues).

Netanyahu is leaning a significant amount of reliance on the GOP, and the party’s unstable foundation could pose a significant problem for Israel in terms of future advancement with Middle East nations. The White House has expressed its discomfort from Netanyahu’s recent activities, especially with making the one state solution remark on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has held the attention of the global community for years and has been a major topic discussed in international affairs between nations and blocs. Currently, majority of the world’s nations support Palestine whether it is for a single state or a two state solution. Even Israel’s biggest ally America (although reluctant to support Palestine) has been favorable towards a two state solution and has sought out a peace plan since the 1990s. The road map for peace has spanned at least 25 years with several leaders coming and going. Now, at this point in time, with a solid and open statement by an Israeli leader praising a single state solution, America is placed in a tough spot with supporting Israel. A possible peace plan would not only be scrapped, but this toughened stance would further isolate America and Israel from the rest of the global community.

Netanyahu is gambling, as do all politicians. He is placing his faith in the Republican Party’s hold on power and influence in the country. The rift growing between the political parties and Netanyahu’s alliance with the White House poses an important scenario come 2016. Another Democratic President, added with a Democrat controlled Senate in the near future, would press Netanyahu to either rethink his strategy or stand on his ultra nationalistic statements. And a successful Iranian nuclear deal that works for the P5+1 would further jeopardize Netanyahu’s image, or give the situation further urgency with another round of anti-Iranian remarks.

The last-minute remarks by Netanyahu were either a very convincing political tool to secure Likud votes, or were a threatening promise for future action against any developments or negotiations in the Middle East. Either way, the land which support Netanyahu’s image is faulting and may prove to change the international political landscape.

Photo Credit: Israel News Agency

Update (March 19th): Netanyahu retracted on his statement of a single state solution and returned to the view of a Israeli-Palestinian peace plan. He gave updates during an NBC News interview where “Netanyahu insisted that relations with the United States were strong even though he had yet to hear from President Barack Obama about his election win. He said that Washington had “no greater ally” than Israel.” On the contrary, relations between Netanyahu and the White House have heavily been strained from what has been occurring over the past weeks. It will be interesting to see any future developments between the two.

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