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The stakes have never been higher in Israelís elections

By Alon Ben-Meir and Shabtai Shavit - posted Monday, 5 August 2019


As Israel prepares for the parliamentary election in September, its second in five months, most national security experts, politically savvy individuals, and academics suggest that this election may well be the most critical since the year 2000. Since that time, the geopolitics and regional security have changed dramatically, which could lead either to regional conflagration or peace, which largely depends on who the next Israeli prime minister will be and the general political leaning of the new government.

There is a growing consensus among Israelis that if Prime Minister Netanyahu forms the next government, Israel will lose an historic opportunity to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement based on a two-state solution, in the context of a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace.

The question is, how to deprive Netanyahu and his Likud party of winning a relative majority that will allow him to form the next right-wing government-a government which would dangerously escalate regional tensions and forfeit any prospect of an Israeli-Palestinian peace for the foreseeable future.

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The answer is that if Kahol Lavan (Blue and White Party), which was established last April and led by Gantz and Lapid, put the country's national interests first by ending their personal squabbles, articulating a unity of purpose, and focusing only on national security – where they have an overwhelming advantage over Netanyahu – it can potentially defeat a Likud Party led by Netanyahu and form the next government.

Netanyahu, who is now the longest-serving prime minister since the founding of the state, has skillfully made his name synonymous with Israel's national security. It is true that he has contributed to making Israel a regional power, but he failed to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace, which would provide the ultimate security for the state. Instead, he resorted to fearmongering, persuading a majority of Israelis that the Palestinians cannot be trusted and that a Palestinian state will pose the greatest menace to Israel's long-term national security.

Now, Netanyahu is running again using the same sinister technique of fearmongering, presenting himself as "Mister Security" who alone can save the country from a perilous future. After serving 11 consecutive years as prime minister, however, Netanyahu has become ever more power-hungry and corrupt. He faces possible charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in connection with three cases. He is now fighting for his political life, hoping that his re-election will spare him from facing up to 10 years in jail if convicted.

As such, Netanyahu has now become a greater liability than an asset to Israel's security. His vow to never to allow the establishment of a Palestinian state under his watch and his leaning toward the annexation of the West Bank will render Israel nothing short of a garrison and apartheid state living by the gun, which is to Israel's detriment as an independent democratic state with a sustainable Jewish majority.

This is particularly worrisome at a time when the Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, have openly allied themselves with Israel against their common enemies - Iran and Global Jihad/Radical Islam - and clearly indicated their willingness to forge peace with Israel, once an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement is achieved.

Kahol Lavan must now seize the unprecedented opportunity to deny Netanyahu another term by assuming the mantra of national security. They should dramatically change Israel's trajectory toward peace with the Palestinians, even though they are avoiding speaking about a two-state solution which most of them privately embrace, provided that Israel's security is not compromised now or at any time in the future.

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Although Israel can militarily defeat any country or a combination of countries in the region, Israel has legitimate reasons to be concerned about its national security, which is embedded in the psyche of every Israeli. These concerns can be traced back to the Holocaust, decades of enmity from the Arab states, Iran and its surrogates' (Hezbollah and Hamas) continuing existential threats, terrorism, and future uncertainty given the region's instability and power rivalries.

By embracing national security, they entertain unquestionable superiority in matters of security over Netanyahu, which is a prerequisite to any peace. Lieutenant General Gantz and his colleagues, former Defense Minister and Lieutenant General Moshe Ya'alon and Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi have the credentials and enjoy tremendous credibility in safeguarding the country's national security.

What is critically important, however, is that Israel's ultimate national security rests on a permanent peace with the Palestinians. In any peace talks, they will insist that every measure must be taken to ensure the security of the state, without compromising the establishment of an independent Palestinian state that fully cooperates with Israel on all security matters.

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About the Authors

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.

Shabtai Shavit is a former director of Mossad.

Other articles by these Authors

All articles by Alon Ben-Meir
All articles by Shabtai Shavit

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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