Why Netanyahu Keeps Winning
Matti Friedman says a lot in his editorial in The New York Times on Monday, September 9.
He talks about the unspoken reason Israelis keep returning Mr. Netanyahu to the prime minister’s office year after year and may well do it again on September 17. In a word—security.
In the early part of the 21st century during a period the Palestinians refer to as the Second Intifada and the Israelis have left unnamed, many civilians were killed and maimed by suicide bombers within Jerusalem in particular. It was then, claims Friedman, when the tide turned in Israel away from reconciliation with the Arabs in the West Bank and toward the security of the homeland. This Mr. Netanyahu promised and for once a politician delivered.
We were fortunate in having gone to Israel in 1998 and 1999, periods of relative peace. The border crossing into Bethlehem was fluid and Israeli and Palestinian soldiers seemed to be getting along at the checkpoints. Then came 2000 and the wave of violence that swept through Israel. This was not like the wars of 1948, 1967, or 1973. This was a true civil war waged on the battlefield of the cities of Jewish Israel. This could not be tolerated. The Israel we next visited in 2014 was a different place having just emerged from the Gaza War and the Iron Dome’s protection of Tel Aviv. Israel was a place of bomb shelters and fear. But not a place where anyone was backing down from a fight.
In such a place, those advocating peace with the Arabs were not playing a winning hand. If a government has one purpose it is the security of its people. Likud promised that and delivered. Mr. Netanyahu is the face of Likud and has been for years. He had been prime minister when we went there first in the late 90s and he still is (although not continuously). Whether he will be after September 17 depends to a large extent on the perception of Israelis as to whether despite his faults he manages to keep them safe and therefore will get their votes again.
It is always hard to predict what the Israeli people will do but there should be no mistaking the Israelis for people like Americans. America is not really under attack from an outside force that is right next door as Israel is. Other than the horrors of 9/11, America has not suffered repeated assaults on its civilian population. This is, after all, one of the arguments behind keeping troops in Afghanistan to prevent our enemies from launching another attack on the U.S. homeland. Whatever one thinks of the fact that America’s longest war is still not over, a repeat of 9/11 launched from foreign soil has not occurred under the administration of both Republican and Democratic presidents. Something must be working. Can we blame the Israelis who have suffered many more days of foreign attacks than America has from making its security the number one issue in its election?
I don’t know what will happen in Israel on September 17. When I asked the Israeli ambassador to the U.N. why he thought the results would be different than last time he told me, “turn out.” He was assuming the security hawks would come out to vote for his prime minister.
My guess is that those Israelis most concerned about security will turn out to vote on September 17 and may well return Mr. Netanyahu to office, if he can form a government—one that is likely to be even more right-wing than the current one.
American Jews are confused about how to feel about Israel. They like the fact that Israel is a power on the world stage, but do not know how to feel about the West Bank settlements and the complete dominance of the Arab population by the Israelis. Israel is the Jewish homeland and will likely remain so as history dictates that we must have such a place if people are always trying to kill us—as they seem to be. It is now pretty clear to me that a one-state solution is not likely for any such state would lose its unique Jewish identity and that cannot occur. Whether there will be eventual leadership in the Arab held areas of the West Bank with whom the Israelis can make a deal is very unclear. What is clear is that the unspoken horror of the early part of 21st century Jerusalem will not be tolerated by the Israeli public. I don’t know if peace can ever be attained in Israel. But security can and it is—for now. It is likely that Israelis will vote to keep it that way.