Israel’s election ballots revealed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud party scored a surprising victory. Merely four days earlier, pre-election polls showed the Zionist Union party was likely to be the clear victor.
One of the factors resulting in the race’s turnaround was Netanyahu’s last ditch efforts to swing hard right in the last days leading up to the election. While this approach may have landed the victor with his fourth term as prime minister, both supporters and opponents wonder how this will affect the country.
Netanyahu's opponents are critical of his domestic agenda, claiming that his efforts are focused solely on national security rather than on the bread-and-butter politics that affect Israelis’ standard of living. Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein of the Likud party expressed his dissatisfaction with how the election failed to address some of these issues.
“I was very disappointed with the fact that there was no real discussion about the issues,” Edelstein told the Monitor. “It was probably one of the lowest campaigns we had, and we wasted the opportunity as a country and a society, because when exactly are we going to discuss the real issues if not during an election campaign?”
In an effort to appeal to other right-wing voters, Netanyahu also announced that he will no longer support a two-state solution with the Palestinians. This represents a major policy reversal that is sure to increase tensions with the international community, which overwhelmingly supports the development of a Palestinian state to create peace in the Middle East. Netanyahu also promised to expand construction in east Jerusalem, a section of the city Palestinians claim as their capital.
Palestinians will likely push forward with attempts to bring Israel to the International Criminal Court on war crimes charges, and violence may be in the future. Saeb Erekat, a Palestinian negotiator, said Netanyahu’s win was not honorably achieved.
“[Netanyahu’s win showed] the success of a campaign based on settlements, racism, apartheid, and the denial of the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people,” Erekat told Reuters.
Supporters of Netanyahu believe that his approach will solidify Israel’s security. The prime minister addressed his supporters at election night headquarters, before the ballots were counted:
"Against all odds, we achieved a great victory for the Likud . . . I am proud of the people of Israel, who in the moment of truth knew how to distinguish between what is important and what is peripheral, and to insist on what is important."
Netanyahu also spoke to his supporters after the election, saying that he intends to quickly address the various issues facing Israel, including the bread-and-butter issues facing society.
“The citizens of Israel rightfully expect that we will act quickly and responsibly to establish a leadership that will work for them in areas of defense, the economy and society just as we promised in this campaign — and just like we will now set ourselves towards doing,” he said, according to The New York Times. Before being elected for another term as prime minister – which would be his fourth and make him the longest running Israeli leader – he must build a coalition that claims a majority of the seats.
Avi Degani, president of Geocartography polling institute, predicted Netanyahu’s win. He said that while he may have won by votes, public confidence in his abilities to effectively govern the country is uncertain.
"There was a situation where many people wanted to replace him but there was no one whom they wanted to replace him with," Degani said.
In an email statement to The Monitor, the Anti-Defamation League said that moving forward, they hope that all parties involved will begin to take the proper actions to heal the region, regardless of their political feelings.
Regretfully, this campaign was too often marked by extreme and divisive statements by candidates. We urge leaders of all parties to work to reach out to all segments of Israel’s society and heal these wounds. Now the work of forming a governing coalition begins. We wish Israel’s leaders success in establishing a new government that will be able to effectively address the many domestic and security issues facing Israel.
Material from The Associated Press was used in this article.