By Kate Moran
It’s no secret that Israel has had its fair share of challenges. The recent war with Gaza, random acts of senseless terrorism, a burgeoning refugee population, and mounting domestic economic issues are only a handful of the seemingly endless array of tribulations in Israel’s recent history. Even worse, the list is growing everyday. That’s exactly why Israel needs Netanyahu to leave office.
Under his leadership of the Likud party government coalition, Israel’s settlement activity has increased; as of 2013, 6867 new units in settlements had been approved for or begun construction. Annexation of additional territory spells bad news for peace prospects, as the Palestinian leadership view Israel’s continued encroachment into the West Bank as an exacerbation of the illegal occupation. Relations with international powers have become strained as a result of Israel’s ongoing conflict with the Palestinians and increasingly conservative policies. The U.S.-Israel strategic alliance, usually a pillar of American foreign policy, is weaker than ever before.
Internal tensions are also rising. Israelis recently rated the high cost of housing as a key issue in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Anxieties regarding Iran’s nuclear capabilities, encroaching threats from Islamic State, and of course, ongoing negotiations/frustrations with the “Palestinian question” are among Israel’s most pressing concerns. Such perceivably existential threats have put Israel—and Israel’s government—on the defensive. Netanyahu’s government and in particular, his politics, has often been characterized as hawkish.
In the six years since Bibi began his second term as Prime Minister, hawkish politics have done far more harm than good. In the aftermath of last summer’s war, which cost more than 2,200 Palestinian lives and effectively left the Gaza Strip in ruins, Netanyahu’s approval ratings entered free-fall. His decision to resort to early and excessive force substantially escalated the situation, and, months later, the result has been sustained tensions between the Israeli government and Palestinians both in the Occupied Territories as well as in Israel proper. Palestinians weren’t the only ones affected by the war; Israeli civilians were also subject to the long, hot summer of daily rocket fire. Now, in the wake of the upcoming elections, his government is struggling to maintain its foothold.
Recent polls have shown that Netanyahu’s party, Likud, is trailing Herzog-Livni by three points. Moreover, a strange and altogether unlikely collection of Arab parties has merged to form a coalition in opposition to Likud. Recent years have seen Israeli politics shifting toward right-of-center, but the failures and missteps of Netanyahu’s administration are causing a redrawing of sociopolitical boundaries in the country. Perhaps more than ever before, the country is stratified. Although a majority of Israeli citizens continue to support a two-state solution, almost a quarter of those surveyed expressed their preference for a state in which Arabs would be inherently disenfranchised. Netanyahu’s push to ratify a Nationality Law with the intention of preserving Israel’s “Jewish” character is further pushing the country toward isolation. That the bill is even being taken seriously is a sign of greater stratification to come.
It seems that, as the Israeli political narrative shifts to the right, people in other countries have begun to tend toward a more “pro-Palestinian” narrative. Prominent voices on the Israeli right—who advocate increased settlement activity and are generally known for their hardline stances on “final status issues” like the future of Jerusalem and borders—have alienated those in other countries, especially younger generations, who see human rights as a pressing issue. International support is beginning to crumble. And while the peace process has been ongoing for a number of decades, Israel (and most especially, Netanyahu) is in its eleventh hour. There will come a time in the very near future where the choice will be governmental compromise or isolationism.
This choice is inevitable. However, extraordinary political courage by Israeli leaders can ensure that the choice comes not at the expense of the people but as their greatest legacy. Compromise on the “Palestinian question” is not synonymous with abandonment of Israeli ideals. Rather, it implies a greater degree of genuine, widespread inclusionary practices. It means dialogue—not in theory only but in practice—built into the very fabric of a reimagined Israeli democracy.
Netanyahu, by remaining in power for any amount of time, will only further entrench Israel in its cycle of failed negotiations and international criticism. The onus is on Israel’s constituency to elect leaders who best represent their interests—just not for today, but decades into the future. Netanyahu is not such a leader and will only bring the country lower than it has already sunk in the international schema.
As a state, Israel is still relatively young, and for this reason, it is unrealistic to assume there are not lessons it must still learn. It has, in a broad sense, been playing defense for more than 60 years. While this policy might have worked in the past, it does not and cannot work in the present or future.
Israel still has the potential to come to an equitable solution to the Palestinian question. It still has the chance to occupy the international prominence and command the widespread support it desires. But Netanyahu, if kept in office, is ruining that chance. And he is ruining the chances of future governments by forging for Israel a legacy of brash, irrational decision-making and hawkish, self-interested leaders.
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