The Israeli People Voted. They Said What?

The Israeli People Voted. They Said What?

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

From both a strategic as well as a tactical perspective Bibi Netanyahu ran an incredible race. Whether one approved of the results or not, Bibi beat the odds. He  called election two years early for no clear reason; he beat the polls which had him down four seats in the final consensus polls and heading South; and he beat the pundits, most of whom believed that Israelis wanted change. He won decisively over an opponent who turned out to be a much more formidable candidate than anyone had expected three months ago.

His victory was clearly a personal triumph not a real win for Likud; except that that is the party he leads. To the very end Netanyahu did what he wanted—or what his closest political advisers told him to do. Bibi went to Washington; he renounced the two-state solution; and he engaged in race baiting at its very worst. All of these tactics brought back many of the Likud voters who had decided to defect from their hero and move to one of the other right-wing choices. Naftali Bennett and Avigdor Lieberman both received considerably less support than had been expected and fell below their mandates in the last election.

In this campaign, Bougie Herzog established himself as a serious politician, likely leader of the opposition, and someone to be reckoned with in the years ahead. He brought back a Labor Party that had appeared to be on life support while moving the party more to the center. He made claim to being the voice for the domestic agenda which Bibi had virtually ignored throughout the campaign.

The other obvious winner was the Joint Arab List which, by joining forces, moved itself with its new leader, Ayman Odeh, potentially to a place which could radically change Israeli politics; for the good.  Garnering the third largest number of votes, the Joint Arab List—if they seriously want to work in a democratic environment—over time could have profound effect on Israeli democracy. It could precipitate a shift that could evolve within the Israeli Arab community if it recognizes that it too can play politics in a democratic system. This can occur despite the truly racist tactics employed by Bibi to scare many unsophisticated voters in the final minutes of the campaign.

It remains to be seen if Bibi will care enough now to try to repair his relationship with President Obama and the Democratic Party; as well as with a very significant percentage of American Jews. His first move once he forms a governing coalition could be to call the Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer back home from Washington to serve as his Chief of Staff; — or whatever. Dermer is such a thorn in the eyes of the White House and many in Washington, that were Bibi to elevate him to a new post and send a less partisan person to Washington it could signal a desire to begin the healing process between the two leaders.  As far differences between Iran and the P5 +1 in their discussions in Geneva, matters should be much clearer before the end of March. How Netanyahu responds to these events will also indicate whether there is any movement to repair the relationship.

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