Decisive Victory for Netanyahu’s Likud, Marred by Tactics

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu campaigns in the southern city of Ashkelon March 17, 2015.

Israel's PM Benjamin Netanyahu campaigns in the southern city of Ashkelon March 17, 2015. 
Photo courtesy of Reuters via Haaretz.

The Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu knows how to win an election, and in a vacuum he did a masterful job. Trailing in the polls leading up to elections Tuesday, Mr. Netanyahu pulled out all the stops to appeal to right wing voters, affirming there will not be a Palestinian state under his watch and even invoking racial scare tactics, “right-wing rule is in danger. Arab voters are streaming in huge quantities to the polling stations.”

After the votes were counted on Tuesday, Likud shocked the pollsters garnering 30 seats compared to the center-left Zionist Union party, which won 24.

In a vacuum, Netanyahu showed off impressive political prowess. But we don’t live in a vacuum and his actions have consequences.

Netanyahu’s campaign tactics may have hurt his relationship with key allies, furthered his reputation as a hard liner opposed to peace talks, and may have complicated the Iranian nuclear negotiations.

By telling the media he is opposed to a Palestinian state, he has opened the door to criticism from opponents who now claim he has “never engaged seriously in negotiations.” Clearly against the official stance of the United States and as a reversal of his own policy, this statement has the potential to strain his already tumultuous relationship with the Obama administration just ahead of the deadline for talks with Iran.

Mr. Netanyahu’s extreme shift to the right at the 11th hour of his campaign was not his only near-sighted political tactic. His speech to congress may have had the unintended political consequence of creating a partisanship in a bipartisan issue, with 56 Democrats in congress refusing to attend.

Yes, Iran poses an existential threat to Israel, and it is longstanding Israeli policy that complete dismantlement of their nuclear facilities seems to be the only way to quell Israel’s legitimate fears that the largest state sponsor of terrorism in the world would get the world’s most powerful weapon. His speech to congress, however, added little other than paint him as a leader back home who is willing to stand up to anybody for Israel’s security.

In the days and weeks ahead, the aftermath of Mr. Netanyahu’s rhetorical tactics will begin to become clear. Hopefully, the political mastermind can retreat from his own statements and work to create peace and security in a region that desperately needs it.

UPDATE: In Mr. Netanyahu’s first interview since his election he backtracked on his controversial statements saying, “I don’t want a one-state solution; I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution, but for that, circumstances have to change. I was talking about what is achievable and what is not achievable. To make it achievable, then you have to have real negotiations with people who are committed to peace.”

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