With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu securing reelection just a day after he vowed to block the establishment of a Palestinian state, many are pessimistic on the prospects for solving the ongoing crisis between Israel and the Palestinians.
Jonathan Schanzer, Vice President for Research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the Daily Caller News Foundation that “the election was and always is a referendum on the prospects for peace.” Israelis have a historical record of voting according to whether they see a credible partner on the other side: “when they feel heartened they tack left, and when they feel peace is not likely, we see them tack to the right.” (RELATED: Netanyahu Pulls Through In Final Election Count)
Netanyahu made the pledge against a Palestinian state on Monday, in an apparent bid to secure voters who would otherwise have backed other nationalist right-wing parties. But the consequences of his promise may be much more far-reaching.
Neri Zilber, a scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, observed that “it’ll clearly be difficult for Netanyahu to completely walk back from that statement.” While the prime minister had previously been deliberately flexible in his approach to the Palestinians, and had even backed a two-state solution in a landmark 2009 speech, he may now be stuck in an uncomfortable commitment. (RELATED: On Election Day, Israeli Politicians Continue To Surprise)
But not everyone is convinced that Netanyahu thinks a workable, if tense, relationship with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is in his interest. “This is someone Netanyahu always was,” said Matt Duss, head of the Foundation for Middle East Peace. He pointed out that “Israeli progress on settlements [in the Palestinian territories] has quickened” under the incumbent prime minister.
Netanyahu’s apparent disinterest in remaining at the negotiating table reflects a parallel Palestinian lack of confidence in a credible partner for peace. Netanyahu’s new government is unlikely to take “tangible steps that would be enough to satisfy the Palestinians,” said Zilber. “I just don’t see that happening.”
Walking away from bilateral talks also allows the Palestinians to continue their latest tactics of choice: seeking recognition by the U.N., and bringing their grievances against Israel to international courts. (RELATED: Palestinians To Sue Israel For War Crimes)
According to Schanzer, Abbas has made “undeniable achievements” on the international stage so far. If anything, “the Palestinians put it on pause during the election, perhaps to make sure they didn’t draw more voters into the arms of Netanyahu.” But otherwise, this strategy has been in place since 2005, and “it’s hard to derail a train that’s been moving in the same direction for quite some time.”
Moreover, the international option may simply be Abbas’ last chance to reach a realistic equilibrium. Zilber told TheDCNF that “the Palestinians don’t have many arrows left in their quiver.” If anything, Netanyahu’s reelection “is going to give them renewed ammunition, as it were, in the international arena for anti-Israel maneuvers.”
All experts interviewed for this article, both hawkish and dovish, agreed that the overall lack of reference to the Palestinians in the three-month electoral campaign was a telling surprise. Duss said that “the absence of discussion of the occupation was quite remarkable,” while Schanzer admitted that “even Hamas was barely registering.”
In other words, Israelis seemed to vote on Tuesday for an implicit rejection to peace with the Palestinians, not an explicit one. And that may be enough to encourage the Palestinians to venture out on their own.
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