Blog 258 June 22, 2015
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won the election but–
It’s been a downhill slide ever since and the struggle in Israel is far from over. Netanyahu snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by making racist comments the day before the election and then reversing himself on the two-state solution the day after the election. Already criticized for his flip-flops, Netanyahu has unfortunately degraded himself during and after the election process.
Elected months ago, Netanyahu continues to struggle in putting a working government in place. Jerusalem’s Mayor Nir Barkat recently came out with strong opposition to the appointment of Immigration and Absorption Minister Ze’ev Elkin’s appointment as Jerusalem Affairs Minister. Barkat lashed out, “Jerusalem is not a consolation prize for anyone.” Barkat is accusing Netanyahu of breaking a campaign promise. This struggle is systematic of the political struggles going on in Israel.
One day after Netanyahu was quoted in a closed conversation saying that he wants to restart the peace process, opposition leader Isaac Herzog expressed strong doubt that Netanyahu would do the same. His comments reflect a doubt about the government’s seriousness in its political statements. Herzog called the problem the “Netanyahu circus.” Herzog has also opposed Finance Minister’s Moshe Kahlon’s demand to take the Interior Ministry portfolio. Right, wrong, or indifferent, the situation reflects the political struggles inside the government.
In mid-May, Avigor Liberman announced he was resigning as foreign minister and joined the opposition to Netanyahu. His decision was a bombshell that no one saw coming – least of all Netanyahu. His step-back has definitely dwindled Netanyahu’s deck of cards. The politically besieged Netanyahu now presides over the narrowest margin possible in the Knesset. He is staring at a legislature whose enmity and tricks will keep him busier than worrying about Iran (which is no small problem).
This complicated situation certainly doesn’t spell a demise but it is a political landscape that is more hostile and less favorable than what Netanyahu faced before the election. The problems have only emboldened his rivals. After a 23-year working relationship, Liberman’s exit remains a devastating blow that is seen as forcing Netanyahu into a narrow government. Political observers inside Israel see this as a bumpy road hard to travel.
Of course, I haven’t even mentioned Netanyahu’s problems with Washington. While Israel’s status as a favored nation is not in question, their relationship with the American president has serious problems. Whatever is wrong with President Obama’s reactions with Israel (and there are plenty of questions to be raised), Netanyahu has cornered himself and will continue to be in a difficult position with Israel’s major supporter.
On the other side, Europe is pressing Natanyahu to free construction of housing in the major settlement blocks. The European Union is not convinced he can be trusted to pursue a two-state solution and want to see concrete steps if Netanyahu is to be credible. The international community has been infuriated by the government’s persistent attempts to create new settlements. Talk of sanctions is no longer hypothetical. Currently, Israel has lost a considerable amount of ground in that arena.
Netanyahu had best make some significant changes if he’s not going to end up being seen as just another second-rate politician.