As vote tallying came to a close Wednesday night, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party emerged as theclear victor in the Israeli election, besting the runner-up Zionist Union party headed by the Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog and his running mate, Tzipi Livni. As a result, Netanyahu has gained the upper hand in forming the country’s next coalition government.
The election reflected polling done in December, when Netanyahu appeared to have a comfortable lead following his call for new elections, due to opposition within the current coalition government. Just prior to the election, however, Netanyahu’s Likud party trailed the left-of-center Zionist Union, a party whose platform centered around a wish to resume negotiations with the Palestinians. If they had emerged victorious, Herzog and Livni would have split the four year term, with Herzog serving the first two years and Livni the second two.
Other parties that emerged on top in the election included the Joint Arab List, an Arab coalition party that increased the chronically low Israeli Arab turnout; the aforementioned Kahlon; Habayit Hayehudi, whose millionaire leader Naftali Bennette sought support of West Bank settlers; Yesh Atid, led by former TV news anchor Yair Lapid, who stressed economic relief for a struggling middle class; and a number of smaller parties including, Kulanu, Shas, United Torah Judaism, Meretz, and Yisrael Beytenu, each of whom won a small number of seats. The Yahad party failed to pass the electoral threshold for representation in the Knesset.
Lapid, who was Finance Minister in Netanyahu’s outgoing government, wrongly predicted a defeat for Likud. But he nonetheless outlined the divide among the electorate. “The Netanyahu era is coming to an end. That’s not because security issues don’t matter but because social and economic issues are dominating the agenda,” he explained. Lapid may also have something to say about the final outcome with Yesh Atid garnering the fourth highest number of seats behind Likud, the Zionist Union and the Joint Arab List. He has not ruled out working with either of the top two vote-getters.
Netanyahu’s apparently successful last minute appeals were aimed at Israelis who still believe national security trumps all other considerations. First, he made it clear that if he is returned to office he will never establish a Palestinian state. “I think that anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state today and evacuate lands is giving attack grounds to radical Islam against the state of Israel,” he warned. “There is a real threat here that a left-wing government will join the international community and follow its orders.”
Second, he warned that the Israeli left’s funding from foreign governments aimed at getting more Israeli Arabs to the polls had worked, and that Israeli right-wingers had to make the effort to counteract that reality. The Arab Joint List confirmed Netanyahu’s fears, noting that by early morning, 10 percent of Arab Israelis had voted, compared with only 3 percent at the same time in the last election. “We only have you,” Netanyahu implored his base. “Go to the polls, bring your friends and family, vote Machal [Likud] to close the gap between us and Labor [Zionist Union].With your help and God’s help, we will form a nationalist government that will protect the State of Israel.”
Netanyahu’s latter warning evoked harsh criticism. “He is inciting against Arab voters who are taking advantage of their natural and democratic right as citizens,” said Arab MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List), a man who once raised a PLO flag on the Temple Mount and declared it the capital of Palestine. “Netanyahu and Likud are afraid, and therefore, I call on more and more of the Arab public to go to the polls so Netanyahu will continue panicking. Change is coming.” Zionist Union lawmaker Shelly Yacimovich tweeted that no Western leader would have uttered such a “racist” remark. “Imagine a warning that begins with ‘the rule is endangered. Black voters are heading in droves to the polls,'” she wrote.
Netanyahu offered subsequent clarification of his remarks, insisting “what’s wrong is not that Arab citizens are voting, but that massive funds from abroad from left-wing NGOs and foreign governments is bringing them en masse to the polls in an organized way, thus twisting the true will of all Israeli citizens who are voting, for the good of the left,” he explained.
One of those NGOs was Victory 15, a subsidiary of Washington-based OneVoice, a non-profit currently being probed by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. The bipartisan investigation is exploring possible ties to the Obama administration following the revelation that OneVoice received $350,000 in recent State Department grants. State Department officials insist that funding for OneVoice stopped a month prior to the announcement of the Israeli election. But OneVoice’s 2014 Annual Report stated that it would be “embarking on a groundbreaking campaign around the Israeli elections,” and that Victory 15 would be “promoting popular resistance, state-building and the Arab Peace Initiative, while advocating for an end to the conflict and a two-state solution along the 1967 borders.” More telling, Victory 15 is run by Jeremy Bird, who was Obama’s National Field Director during his successful presidential campaigns.
Herzog, who had emerged as Netanyau’s chief rival, made a statement following his vote that should sound very familiar to Americans. “Whoever wants to follow (Netanyahu’s) path of despair and disappointment will vote for him,” Herzog maintained. “But whoever wants change, hope, and really a better future for Israel, will vote the Zionist Union led by me.”
Netanyahu believed the leftist-inspired hope and change was a potentially fatal departure from reality for a country surrounded by enemies who yearn for its annihilation. His position is buttressed by an ever-strengthening ISIS, and Iranian aggression that most recently manifested itself with the addition of Yemen to its list of terrorist proxies that also include Syria and Hezbollah. “We have a different approach,” Netanyahu said. “They (the Zionist Union) want to withdraw. I don’t want to withdraw. If I put together the government, it will be a nationalist government.” Netanyahu has ruled out a coalition with Herzog and will seek to align himself with the Jewish Home party, a hard-line nationalist organization that also opposes Palestinian statehood—putting him squarely at odds with the Obama administration and other Western leaders who remain convinced, despite decades of ongoing failure, that the so-called two-state solution is the ultimate cure for Middle East violence.
Even before the votes were in, left-wing Israeli newspaper Haaretz was already writing Netanyahu’s obituary, insisting that his “fearmongering about Iran and the Islamic State” no longer resonates with Israelis far more interested in “housing prices, hospital emergency-room crowding and the cost of living,” and horrified by “reports of the hedonism and excessive spending attributed to Netanyahu and his family.” The paper further insisted that even if he emerged victorious, his “physical departure from the political arena would only be postponed for a year or two, and the result of the next election would only be a tougher, more profound loss.”
Perhaps the greatest irony voiced by Netanyahu’s critics was a statement by Shabtai Shavit, a former chief of the Mossad spy agency. “You and you alone turned the United States from an ally into an enemy,” he declared at a recent news conference attended by Netanyahu and other former security chiefs and retired commanders. Shavit was incensed that Netanyahu had frayed ties with the U.S. over the Iranian issue.
Columnist Caroline Glick cut through such spurious nonsense, explaining that it was President Obama who exposed his antipathy towards Israel in two different ways. One was the announced indictment of Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), who has been harshly critical of the Obama administration’s proposed deal with Iran. The other was the appointment of “serial Israel-basher Robert Malley” as the National Security Council’s (NSC) Middle East Coordinator. “With his Middle East policy led by a man who thinks the Palestinian goal of destroying Israel is legitimate, Obama can be expected to expand his practice of placing all the blame for the absence of peace between Israel and the Palestinians solely on Israel’s shoulders,” Glick insisted.
Writing prior to the election, Glick envisioned a bleak future for the Jewish State if Livni and Herzog had prevailed. That’s because the Israeli left believed U.S. pressure on Israel would evaporate with like-minded leftists in control.
Glick saw it differently—ands far more accurately—insisting their willingness to make concessions to the Palestinians that Netanyahu refuses to make would do nothing more than “cause Obama to move the goalposts further down the field” she wrote. “Given (Obama’s) goal of abandoning the US alliance with Israel, no concession that Israel will deliver will suffice.”
The polls closed at 10 PM, local time, and the Central Elections Committee reported voter turnout at 71.8 percent, four points higher than the last election. “Against all odds, a great victory for the Likud, a major victory for the national camp led by the Likud, a major victory for the people of Israel,” tweeted Netanyahu. Silvan Shalom, a Likud minister, hailed a “very strong result,” and predicted Netanyahu would remain leader of a “strong coalition.” That prediction was amplified by the news that Moshe Kahlon had already been offered his desired job of Finance Minister, putting the would-be kingmaker squarely in Netanyahu’s corner.
Yet in a possible portent of the future, the Joint Arab List appears to have finished third—and a Palestinian flag was waved in celebration. Yet for now Israelis have apparently rejected “hope and change” in favor of continued vigilance. And to the likely disappointment of Obama and the rest of his feckless administration, the “goal posts” will remain right where they are.