When facing elections political leaders know that it is best to always run scared; deny the polls and your instincts and continue dealing cards until the last minute. While it is not clear what other tricks Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu still may have up his sleeve, what is obvious is that over the past few weeks, as he approached Tuesday’s election, Netanyahu has been playing fast and furious. In fact, as has been noted everywhere, in his last election Bibi was running so scared that he disseminated falsehoods to frighten voters even while they were on their way to the polls. Netanyahu’s recent actions also have made it possible for him virtually to own the news cycle during the final weeks before the election, this keeping his competition in a reactive mode.
Netanyahu went to Washington for another Trump photo-opportunity and came away with the President announcing U.S. recognition of Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights. Bibi no doubt also discussed with Trump his plans to announce his intention to annex the West Bank following his election; a matter on which—based on the lack of pushback from the U.S. so far—Trump presumably also acquiesced. All of this was part of conscious effort by Bibi to exploit for his own political purposes his relationship with Trump, just as Trump has also done with Israel and American Jews as well as their American supporters. Similarly, Netanyahu followed this political strategy with a quick visit to Moscow to obtain a chit from President Putin who facilitated the Lebanese release of the remains of Zachary Baumel, which had been held in Lebanon since the 1982 Lebanon War.
As a result, Bibi further reinforced his right-wing base during the run-up to Tuesday’s voting, as the strong, respected world leader. Unfortunately, throughout this entire election campaign, however, Bibi has ignored the two most critical issues which Israel is facing now and will very much effect Israel’s future; relations with the Diaspora Jewry and the nature of peace with Palestinians.
Netanyahu has consistently demonstrated a disdain for most of American Jews. Like the President, Bibi only seeks to bolster the conservative, largely Republican base in the U.S.; ignoring the overwhelming percentage of Jews who are Democrats and are not Orthodox or politically conservative. It is especially noticeable in the unwillingness of his Government to deliver any concessions to the Reform and Conservative movements. For years the non-Orthodox denominations have sought a level of recognition from Israeli Governments of the religious pluralism that they enjoy in the U.S. While most of the non-Orthodox also favor a more compromising approach to dealing with the Palestinians and opposes expansion of the settlements, a shift from Netanyahu could go a long way to assuaging the hostility towards him present in many quarters of the American Jewish community.
Finally, it is largely this segment of the American Jewish community which, together with many Western countries, have grown very cynical about Netanyahu’s commitment to a two-state solution. While the status quo seems to be holding at the moment and the Palestinians have no serious leadership, but absent some type of negotiations, there will not be a permanent peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
This matter too has virtually fallen off Netanyahu’s radar screen. Although there is anticipation and discussion of a yet to be released—post election—Trump regional peace proposal, there is little optimism that anything serious will be forthcoming from the Trump-Kushner-Greenblatt plan. It is likely that beyond giving it lip service, a Netanyahu victory will do little to encourage any peace proposal from Washington.