Squeaking out a narrow majority in the Israeli election, 63-year Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu lost 11 seats in the Knesset, winning only 31 of the 120 seats necessary to stay in power. While Netanyahu held onto the Knesset, former Center-left-leaning Kadima Party head Tzipi Livini gained more ground for her new Hatunah Party, something she calls a “movement.” Livni’s vocal opposition to Netanyahu’s Likud coalition with his Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu group, the party represents thousands of West Bank settlers. Since Netanyahu joined forces with Lieberman April 1, 2009, the Israeli government has continued to build in the West Bank, the future home of a Palestinian state. Netanyahu lost ground in the election trying to persuade the Israeli public that Iran’s nuclear program was an existential threat to the Jewish State.
Most Israelis prefer diplomacy over Netanyahu’s hawkish position with Iran, threatening military strikes against Iran’s nuclear sites. While few nuclear experts believe Israeli air strikes would penetrate Iran’s underground bunkers, Netanyahu took his skeptical case to the United Nations Sept. 27, 2012. President Barack Obama hasn’t bought into the idea that Iran represents a clear-and-present danger to Israel. Despite Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s hostile rhetoric toward Israel, there’s no consensus on what Iran would do with an A-bomb. Netanyahu doesn’t want to find out, prompting his ongoing threats against Iran’s uranium enrichment program. Iran officially denies that its nuclear program is for anything other that electric power and medical isotopes. Pushing his case against Iran, Netanyahu weakened his ruling coalition, losing 11 votes in the Knesset.
Livni’s center-left Hatunah party benefited from voters disgruntled with Netanyahu’s hawkish view. While all Israelis give Netanyahu high marks on national security, voters have grown weary of Bibi’s stand on Iranian nukes. Whether Netanyahu will offer Livni a portfolio in his government is anyone’s guess. Neither Netanyhu nor Lieberman have much tolerance for Israel’s dovish fringe. Israel’s centrist Yesh Atid Party, led by TV talk show host Yair Lapid, racked up 18 or 19 seats in the Knesset, unheard of for a new party. Israel’s once powerful Labor Party finished third behind Likud-Beitenu and Kadima-Hatunah, controlling 17 seats. When the dust settles after the election, Netanyahu will be forced to broker a broader coalition, with Livni gaining more clout. Concerned over the prospects of a new Palestinian uprising, foreign leaders want Israel to make peace.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague has urged Netanyahu to make a peace deal for a two-state solution his top priority. Hague and other foreign leaders have discouraged Bibi from continuing Israeli settlements in the West Bank. What foreign leaders sometimes forget is that Israel no longer has a reliable Palestinian peace partner. While the West would like to negotiate with Ramallah-based Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian population is divided between Gaza and the West Bank. Unlike Livni or Lapid, Netanyahu and Lieberman believe in marching ahead with construction projects in the West Bank and Jerusalem until Palestinians resolve their differences. Foreign leaders sometimes forget that Gaza’s 49-year-old Ismail Haniyeh is loyal to Hamas’ exiled Khaled Meshaal. Once sheltered by Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, Meshaal is committed to Israel’s destruction.
With a weaker coalition in the Knesset, Netanyah faces an eventual no-confidence vote unless he can cobble together more center-right or center-left votes. Threatening war with Iran has only weakened his governing coalition. While distasteful to Lieberman, Netanyahu should offer Livni and Palid Cabinet positions for the sake of unity. His aggressive strategy with Iran has backfired, leaving many moderate Israeli’s skeptical of his judgment. Netanyahu knows that Obama has already committed to preventing Iran from getting a nuke. If Bibi backed of the gunboat diplomacy and let the White House deal with Iran, he’s help Israel’s national security. Pitting himself against the U.S. and moderates within his own government serves no one other that Ahmandinejad, Netanyahu needs to let the U.S. and international community help Israel’s national security.
Winning the narrowest of victories, Netanyahu faces some tough choices going forward with his conservative governing coalition. With less votes in the Knesset, he won’t get much done without enlisting the support of Hatunah leader Livni and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid. Both leaders hold the key to Netanyahu keeping the broadest possible coalition without compromising Israeli national security. Given Obama’s commitment to keeping nukes out of Iranian hands, Netanyahu would assure Israel’s security better by refraining from West Bank and Jerusalem building projects. Whether or not Israel has a Palestinian peace partner, new construction projects in Jerusalem or the West Bank hurt Israel’s credibility. Bringing Livni and Palid into his Cabinet would add to Israel’s national security by helping Netanyahu’s government look more responsive to an eventual peace process.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.