It’s time for Israel to mend some fences

It’s time for Israel to mend some fences

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

The people of Israel went to the polls and reelected Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. According to many analysts, Israelis feared the prospect of change and a more moderate approach to Israel’s geo-political problems and security more than they did a right-wing incumbent whom they did not truly like. 

The voters’ decision, however, might well place Israel in a position of even graver danger in the coming years than it faced before the election. Israel faces the same threats it did before March 17. However, the reelection of Netanyahu poses existential dangers for Israel which transcend even the continuing Iranian nuclear threat.

As the end of March deadline approached for negotiations between Iran and the P5+1, both sides appeared ready for a “tentative” understanding which would permit “finalizing” discussions in three months’ time. Israel has made it clear that it objects to the terms of the deal, putting it directly at odds with the White House. 

The new Netanyahu coalition — as Israeli President Reuven Rivlin emphasized when he asked Netanyahu to form a new government — must immediately find ways to improve its relationship with Washington. Admittedly, the Obama administration has not let up in its criticism of Netanyahu. Nevertheless, it behooves the prime minister to start taking significant steps to improve Israel’s relationship with its only true friend in the world. 

By dismissing prospects for a Palestinian state under his watch, and describing Israeli-Arab voters in a way that many inside and outside of Israel considered bigoted and divisive, Netanyahu only intensified the desire of some countries to charge Israel with behaving like an apartheid state. Although Netanyahu subsequently retracted or at least modified his campaign remarks, there are strong concerns that Israel is heading into global isolation. 

Israel has a very significant growing relationship, both economically and militarily, with India, Japan, China, and numerous African countries. In addition, there is extensive Western investment in Israel’s successful hi-tech, bio-tech, and medical fields. All of this growth is extremely significant. But if the new Netanyahu-led coalition does not take significant steps to reopen talks with the Palestinians, the pressure from the West on Israel’s new trading partners and private investors may well be intense. Growing economic and diplomatic isolation may eclipse any successful trading growth with its newer partners. 

Obama, meanwhile, needs to stop pushing the Israel button. Perhaps it is a way to distract from faltering attempts to construct a more comprehensive policy in the face of the immediate crises he is facing in Yemen, Iraq, and North Africa. Obama wants desperately to reduce the tension and confrontations without further escalating U.S. military involvement. He does not want to appear to desert his Saudi and Sunni Iraqi allies, yet he also does not want to annoy Iran just when he believes he may be close to reaching an agreement with Teheran on restricting its nuclear program. As a result, the United States has found itself supporting Iranian efforts to fight ISIS in Iraq, while confronting, via the U.S.-backed and Saudi-led Arab coalition, the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

More than 3,000 years ago, Moses led the newly freed Jewish slaves out of Egypt. Their journey over the next 40 years led them eventually to the Promised Land. The trip was filled with troubles and travails. They faced natural, spiritual, and physical challenges on the way. Once they arrived in Israel their struggle continued as they fought to conquer the land and make it hospitable for their people. 

Netanyahu can’t afford to wait until a new president arrives at the White House in 2017. The challenges Israel faces must be addressed now. The Jewish people who wandered in the desert were frequently referred to by Moses as being stiff-necked. It is critical now that the Israeli people not permit a stiff-necked leader to take them back into the political wilderness.

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