Benjamin Netanyahu, now returned as Israel's Prime Minister, must form a new coalition

Benjamin Netanyahu, now returned as Israel’s Prime Minister, must form a new coalition

Foreign elections are always odd to observe for a lot of people. Most of the time, it feels like we’re seeing them through frosted glass, not really understanding quite who the candidates are, what they are saying, what the important issues are. 


For instance, who in this country, last year, really knew anything about the Romney-Ryan ticket before we were told they’d go up against Barack Obama? And what was this Medicare thing they kept going on about? Why weren’t any of them talking about Europe – surely that’s what’s important, right? The same was true in France. Who’d heard of François Hollande? He won, remember. As for Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the opposing firebrands who lit up the campaign – nobodies over here. In France, third and fourth, respectively. Mind you, there’s probably not many people over the Channel who can name Nigel Farage, either, luckily for them.


The 2012 elections in France and the USA did, however, get decent coverage over here. If  you wanted to know about those elections, you could. This has largely not been the case with the elections that occurred in Israel this January. The Israel-Palestine conflict often feels largely misunderstood or ignored by the vast majority of people in this country. It’s on the fringes, always there, on the news most days, but not of real concern. We only hear a great deal about it when rockets start to fly into civilian areas, or if there’s a parade of tanks hovering near the border.


The escalation in conflict during 2012 was widely covered, but has again faded out of public consciousness. It feels as if matters on the West Bank have been overshadowed by the ongoing atrocities in Syria, as well as problems in the Eurozone and our preoccupation with our own domestic issues. Static, unshifting tension is not especially interesting from a news perspective, so the logic goes.


Those of us who want peace in the region have not always been encouraged by the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. He seems to relish conflict and enjoy grandstanding. He appears stubborn, not just with regards to Palestine but also in his attitude with Iran. His speech to the UN last September, with its infamous ‘red line’ description of the Iranian nuclear facilities, was a clear sign of his preference for performance over negotiation. He is a hardliner who does not advocate the removal of Israeli settlements from the West Bank and appears to be inflexible on any two-state solution that would require Israeli compromise – therefore, unwilling to engineer any kind of two-state solution whatsoever.


Netanyahu will keep hold of power, meaning he still has a new mandate for his steadfast brand of politics. It can be expected that he’ll continue playing politics with both the Palestinian issue and the Iranian issue. This is particularly troubling, as the election generally was not a referendum on Israeli policy in these conflicts. It was, instead, more to do with social and economic issues. This doesn’t sit with what we’d think an Israeli election in 2013 would be about – another example of the ‘frosted glass’ approach – but it doesn’t mean that another term of Netanyahu government will solely focus on social and economic issues. Compare it, for instance, to Alex Salmond and the SNP fighting the 2011 Scottish Elections on an economic platform, and then, once they’d won, going full tilt towards a referendum. Some issues, despite how much they get talked about, don’t go away.


It is not just Netanyahu, though, who should be cause for concern. A much larger proportion of the new Israeli parliament, or Knesset, are religious hardliners; despite the fact that the right-wing bloc won less seats than before, a bigger chunk of their new MPs are further to the right than those who preceded them. The role of an increased group of ultra-orthodox Jews in determining Israeli foreign policy is extremely worrying. However, his probable inclusion of Yair Lapid, known for his desire to jump-start a dialogue with the Palestinian Authority, in his next Government, is a hope for all those who want a peaceable solution to the conflict.


This conflict is about religion, everyone knows that, but if there is a further escalation in the way religion is used to inform policy and inform action in the region, then there is no chance of peace, or anything close to peace, in the near future. To simplify the conflict is to say that on both sides there is a large group of people who believe that they are right, and that the opposition are not just wrong, but evil, and that God is on their side, and that He wants them to triumph over the other. This is not helpful. It is downright dangerous, and only escalates and exacerbates the sad slide away from peace in an area of the world that ought to be looking towards a resolution for everyone over anything else.


 Jack Butler


Image Credit: US Department of Defense