In this article, we shall discuss and analyze the 2015 Israeli elections that took place on Tuesday March 16th, 2015. We shall examine the political context leading up to the elections, the main parties and candidates, the results, and future possible scenarios and effects of the israeli elections.
2015 Israeli Elections
The 2015 Israeli Elections saw a heated campaign between the Right Likud Party and the Left Zionist Union Party.
Leading up to election night, many of the polls had the Zionist Union Party ahead of Netanyahu and the Likud party. However, come the day of the election, Netanyahu and the “[h]is Likud party, trailing its leftist opponents in the final polls, not only closed the gap but surged to a six-seat victory over the Zionist Camp’s 24 seats in national elections Tuesday, according to a near-complete tally Wednesday morning” (Case Braynt, 2015). However, some of Netanyahu’s tactics before the election were not without controversy. For example, some argued that Netanyahu was in campaign mode as early as the Charlie Hebdo shootings, going to France despite calls by some for him not to attend. And closer to the Israeli elections, Netanyahu spoke on some issues that were quite upsetting to many, but may have energized his voting base. For example, previously open to the notion of a Palestinian state, Netanyahu, days before the election, changed his position, saying that he does not support a Palestinian state. He also “urg[ed] supporters to counter “droves” of Arab voters – has paid off in a stunning victory” (Case Bryant, 2015).
Because of this victory, “Netanyahu now looks much better positioned to build a right-wing nationalist government that would allow him to govern unfettered by the wide ideological differences that doomed his previous coalition” (Case Bryant, 2015). These elections were a great deal about the direction that people in Israel wanted to see the country go: Were they happy with Netanyahu and his hard line positions on issues such as Palestine, as well as Iran’s nuclear program, or did they believe that new leadership would be better fit to lead Israel on these issues?
How Was Netanyahu Able to Win the Israeli Elections?
There are many who were shocked to see Netanyahu and the Likud Party win the Israeli elections, particularly when he (and they) were down in the final poll before the election. Well, much of the strategy seemed to begin in the fall of 2014 when Netanyahu called for new elections to be held. This came after he fired two members of his coalition, “Finance Minister Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid party and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni of the Hatnua party” (Case Bryant, 2015). There was disagreement in the coalition over legislation that was said to have stated that Israel was a Jewish state. The opposition was worried that that would upset the Arab Israelis, who are about 20 percent of Israeli’s total population. And thus, with Netanyahu’s popularity relatively high at the time, this new election seemed to be a move to ensure an easy election for him and Likud.
However, things unexpectedly became more complicated for Netanyahu when leaders from the opposition came together to challenge Netanyahu and Likud. Namely, Livni and the Hatuna party agreed with Isaac Herzog and the Israel Labor Party. This move seemed to be strategically beneficial for the centrists, and left centrists; those upset with Netanyahu’s hardline were open to support in this new alliance. And, for a while, they were up in the pre-election polls.
Perry (2015) argues that one reason as to why Netanyahu was able to garner such support among citizens in the Israeli elections. For one, there are many who are supportive of the idea of holding onto the West Bank, the territory Israel has illegally occupied since the Six Day War. For many, “They fear that if their army clears out it will be replaced not by peaceful Palestinian moderates but more menacing forces like Hamas — which took over the Gaza Strip soon after Israel handed it fully to the Palestinian autonomy government of Mahmoud Abbas in 2005.” This concern seems to also be in part due to the neighboring situation in Syria and Iraq with regards to the Islamic State. And Netanyahu’s statements about not supporting a Palestinian state helped him with far right parties (Case Bryant, 2015).
But along with this, Netanyahu began to focus more on issues that the Zionist Union was speaking about; he began campaigning on the high cost of living, as well as high cost of cell phone plans (Case Bryant, 2015)
What Effect Will the Israeli Election Results Have Domestically in Israel?
Many are arguing that because of the political divisions in Israel–that were manifested in a close election that allowed Likud and Netanyahu to stay in power, this will have a significant effect on the domestic political situation in Israel. To begin, the tensions between the left and right continue to be very high.
In addition, the electoral victory does not yet guarantee Netanyahu and Likud the government. Since they and their political allies won 57 seats, they still need 4 more for the majority in Israeli’s 120 seat Knesset. It will be interesting to see who will coalition with Likud in this new government. Again, although unlikely, if it seems that Likud cannot form state (assuming that they will be granted the first opportunity to do so), then the Zionist Union Party could theoretically be asked.
In addition, some relationships that Netanyahu had with once allies may not be that strong at the moment. For example, as Case Bryant (2015) writes: “[Likud’s] victory came at the expense of estranged Netanyahu allies. Mr. Bennett, a rising star in the last elections, had to settle for eight seats; Mr. Lieberman was relegated to a record-low of six. Mr. Lapid of Yesh Atid, who as a rookie in 2013 captured 19 seats, also suffered and was downsized to 11.”
How Will the Israeli Elections and Likud’s Win Impact The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict?
One of the biggest casualties of Netanyahu’s reelection seems to be a solution to the Israel Palestine Conflict. Netanyahu made his position on the Palestinians clear when he spoke out against a two state solution, namely that he does not believe Palestine should be its own separate state, worried that if the territory is given up by Israel, it would be taken over by extremists (Pace, 2015). This change of position from an earlier one that supports a Palestinian state clearly mobilized the right and hardliners, and may have helped push him over the majority threshold in the Israeli elections, but at the expense of a belief that he is genuinely committed to a peace deal that involves a Palestinian state–which would include the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, the territories Israel took over in the 1967 6 Day War, and seen by many as illegal under international law. In addition, he said that the settlements would continue if re-elected (AFP in Yahoo, 2015).
Speaking on this issue of the future for a peace with regards to the Israel Palestine conflict, Daoud Kuttab wrote a piece in the Huffington Post on March 18th, 2015 entitled “World No Longer Bound to Defend Israel Internationally. In the article, among other things, he argues that “The Israeli electorate had a choice to make. By re-electing a leader who publicly reneged on his commitments to peace and a two-state solution, they voted against peace. What remains now is how the Palestinians and the world will react to the closure of the charade that was called the peace process.” And Ryan Cooper, in his piece in The Week, stated that “The hidden upside of this rancid politicking is that Netanyahu did both America and Israel a favor by clarifying in plain words what was already the de facto reality in Israel and the occupied territories. And if America and Israel had any sense at all, they’d seize this opportunity to stop heading down the road to grand apartheid.” And recognizing the controversy behind the term apartheid, he went to write: “But the facts are these: Gaza and the West Bank have been dominated by Israel since 1967, and Palestinians who live there have few rights. They already live Israelis’ worst nightmares.” Cooper continues by saying: “Netanyahu openly says that there will never be a Palestinian state or an end to the occupation so long as he is prime minister. If that’s not grand apartheid then the words have no meaning. As former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak once said, “If there is one state, it will have to be either binational or undemocratic. … if this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state.””
Kuttab, in his piece, goes on to say that many were arguing for some time that Netanyahu was not committed to a real peace that involved a Palestinian state. Related to this, “Palestinians have for years lost hope in the peace process and have been telling everyone who is willing to listen that the Israeli leaders are merely giving lip service to it as their own bulldozers were gobbling up Palestinian lands.” He goes on later to say that Netanyahu has not provided the necessary support for a Palestinian state, and because of this, the international community should recognize the reality that is Netanyahu’s position with regards to the Palestinian state.
In fact, the United Nations commented on Netanyahu’s statements, saying that the Israeli leadership needs to be committed to the peace process, which includes the ending of Israeli settlements. In fact, “U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon believes the peace process, including an end to illegal settlement building, is “the best and only way forward for Israel to remain a democratic state,” U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters” (Nichols, 2015). Haq said of the situation that “”It is incumbent on the new Israeli government, once formed, to create the conditions for a negotiated final peace agreement, with the active engagement of the international community, that will end the Israeli occupation and realize the creation of a viable Palestinian state, living in peace and security alongside Israel” (Nichols, 2015). He also called for tax revenue to stop withholding tax revenue for the Palestinians, something Israeli is doing because they are upset because of Palestine’s interest in joining the International Criminal Court (Nichols, 2015), which they could then use to file criminal charges against Israeli actions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Do The Election Results Impact the US-Israeli Relationship?
The President of the United States Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have had a rather cold relationship over the years. They have disagreed on Israeli settlements in the Palestinian Territories, as well as on how to best approach Iran with regards to their nuclear program. This seemed to worsen when John Boehner asked Netanyahu to speak to Congress, something many were upset about. Thus, It is no secret that the two leaders are not very close on positions. And, with the re-election of Netanyahu, it is difficult to see that relationship changing anytime soon. In fact, “The Obama administration signaled on Wednesday it could take a tougher stance toward Benjamin Netanyahu following his decisive Israeli election victory and campaign tack to the right, saying there will be consequences for his sudden reversal on the idea of an independent Palestinian state” (Pace, 2015). Related to this, a U.S. official was quoted as saying that “”There are policy ramifications for what he said,” one official said of Netanyahu’s campaign rhetoric rejecting the creation of a Palestinian state. “This is a position of record” (Pace, 2015). This is referring to Netanyahu’s official statements about not supporting a Palestinian state. And Jonathan Alter argued of the difficulty of going back on his statement, saying this the “comment set his feet in cement. “I think that anyone who moves to establish a Palestinian state and evacuate territory gives territory away to radical Islamist attacks against Israel,” Netanyahu told a website owned by his most generous supporter, American casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson. Should he go back on this pledge, his right-wing supporters would desert him and he would be forced to call another election next year that he would likely lose.”
Related to the Obama administration’s response to Netanyahu’s comment, one of the most surprising developments has been the possibly–at least it is being verbalized by some–that the United States would actually consider changing their historical position with regards to recognizing Palestine as a full member state of the United Nations. The United States, being a veto member of the Security Council, has the ability to block any such legislation from getting passed. And it has been understood that the United States would veto any such actions. Thus, a situation to watch is whether this speech is actually credible, or whether merely a reaction to recent events. Given, the U.S. alliance with Israel, while it will be tough to see the United States actually changing their position on this issue, they were upset at the statements Netanyahu made about the possibility of a Palestinian state, as well as his anti-Arab rhetoric (Pace, 2015) that one in the U.S. government called “offensive” (Diamond & Labott, 2015).
It is also important to see what Congress, as well as 2016 Presidential candidates are saying about the Netanyahu victory in the Israeli elections. While some in the government may have not been the most pleased with the Israeli election results, “Netanyahu’s electioneering isn’t costing him any support from his base in the U.S.: Republican lawmakers” (Diamond & Lapott, 2015). For example, “Arizona Sen. John McCain welcomed the election news by tweeting, “Congrats to Bibi — the comeback kid!”” (Diamond & Lapott, 2015). With regards to the Democrats, Senator Dianne Feinstein said that she hopes that individuals of different political affiliations will work to improve the international relations between the United States and Israel, all the while, reinforcing the importance of a two-state solution to the Israel Palestine conflict (Diamond & Lapott, 2015). Others, like New York Representative Eliot Engel believes that the statements Netanyahu made are not long lasting, and that, for this reason, one should “read too much into it[,]” while also saying that “[i]n the rhetoric and the heat of campaigns there are lots of things that are said…I think that when they get shaken out we’ll find out that not much has changed” (Diamond & Lapott, 2015). Other democrats however seemed to believe his statements, such as the White House, who is viewing the statements at “fave value” (Diamond & Lapott, 2015). And Representative Earl Blumenauer, speaking about Netanyahu’s recently stated position said that “”It’s not just tensions between the Netanyahu government and the Obama administration. It’s a fundamental tension between what a majority of Americans [think]” (Diamond & Lapott, 2015).
And with regards to the Republican candidates, “[most]…welcomed Netanyahu’s victory, but they were notably silent about whether they backed Palestinian statehood. Only Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker weighed in, saying the U.S. goal “must remain a two-state solution.” In addition, “potential Republican presidential contenders quickly blasted out statements lauding Netanyahu, many of them comparing him to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill” (Diamond & Lapott, 2015). And with regards to the democrats, Hilary Clinton–who is leading polling–did not comment on the election, although she has worked on trying to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a member. And, as Aaron David Miller argues, “”I suspect it is the fate of both Democratic and Republican presidents to be caught in a situation in which a two-state solution is too difficult to implement on the one hand and yet too difficult to abandon on the other,” said Miller, now a scholar at the Wilson Center in Washington” (Pace, 2015). However, despite any statements about Palestine, and despite the current relationship between the two leaders, it is important to note that the United States will not result in any reduction in military aid to Israel (Diamond & Labott, 2015). Thus, despite the statements about Palestine, and any perceived tensions between Obama and Netanyahu, the U.S. and Israeli are still rather aligned on many foreign policy issues.
Case Bryant, C. (2015). Netanyahu Scores Stunning Victory. Christian Science Monitor (in Yahoo News). March 18th, 2015. Available Online: http://news.yahoo.com/netanyahu-scores-stunning-victory-cost-132523231.html
Cooper, R. (2015). America needs to wake up to the danger of grand apartheid in Israel. The Week. March 18th, 2015. Available Online: http://theweek.com/articles/544794/america-needs-wake-danger-grand-apartheid-israel
Diamond, J. & Labott, E. (2015). U.S. could abandon Israel at UN. CNN. March 19th, 2015. Available Online: http://www.cnn.com/2015/03/18/politics/benjamin-netanyahu-israel-elections-obama/
Kuttab, D. (2015). World No Longer Bound to Defend Israel Internationally. Huffington Post. March 18th, 2015: Available Online: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/daoud-kuttab/world-no-longer-bound-to-defend-israel-internationally_b_6891838.html?ncid=txtlnkusaolp00000592
Nichols, M. (2015). U.N.: Peace process only way for Israel to stay a democracy. Reuters, in Yahoo. March 19th, 2015: Available Online: http://news.yahoo.com/u-n-says-expects-israel-continue-middle-east-153111681.html
Pace, J. (2015). Netanyahu win dashes prospect for a thaw with Obama. AP in Yahoo News. March 18th, 2015. Available Online: http://news.yahoo.com/us-affirms-support-palestinian-state-netanyahu-win-170254844–politics.html