Netanyahu’s Electoral Victory and the Stagnation of Israeli Foreign Policy


by Kathleen Taylor

Benjamin Netanyahu has won an unprecedented third consecutive election as prime minister of Israel. This is a fourth conservative win for the right-wing Likud party, which has thirty seats total in the Israeli parliament, six more than its main competitor. The election was a hard-fought battle between Mr. Netanyahu and opposition leader Isaac Herzog, leader of the center-left Labour Party. Mr. Netanyahu campaigned mostly on security issues, promising adherence to his preexisting strict policies toward Israel’s two greatest perceived threats: Iran and Palestine.

Alternatively, Mr. Herzog adopted polar-opposite stances on such issues. Further compounding the criticism on his foreign policy, Mr. Netanyahu has experienced tension with the leader of Israel’s key ally, the United States. A change in leadership, then, would have had a significantly positive impact on Israeli foreign policy; however, the re-election of Mr. Netanyahu will only cause Israeli foreign policy to stagnate as he will continue his rigid, hawkish policies to the detriment of Israel.

Prime Minister Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama have had a tense relationship ever since Mr. Obama took office in 2009. Relations deteriorated when Mr. Netanyahu accepted an invitation from U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner to address the U.S. Congress on March 3, 2015 on the pitfalls of the Iranian nuclear deal. In a speech he hoped would provide an advantage in the upcoming election, Mr. Netanyahu directly challenged the Obama administration’s foreign policy toward Iran. However, to Israelis, the relationship with the United States is critical, as they view it as their closest and most important ally. Mr. Netanyahu’s speech, therefore, was counterproductive since it further aggravated an already icy relationship with President Obama and did not give him the bump in the polls for which he had hoped. Given the widening distance between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, the U.S government would have likely welcomed a change in leadership. It would have created less opposition from a key ally in the region on divisive issues like the Iranian nuclear deal and stalled Palestinian peace talks, all of which are impediments to the historically close relationship between the United States and Israel. Thus, the reelection of Mr. Netanyahu will only hamper the United States’ struggling policies in the Middle East.

The reelection of Mr. Netanyahu will also prove difficult for the pending interim nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 countries. Mr. Netanyahu has been a vocal opponent of the prospective deal, lamenting to Congress that the agreement would give Iran the ability to produce a nuclear weapon, not prevent it from doing so. The agreement “doesn’t block Iran’s path to the bomb, it paves its path to the bomb,” Mr. Netanyahu stated as he delivered his controversial speech. He accused Iran of being a state sponsor of terror that is “aggressively marching across the Middle East,” intent on destroying Israel. Mr. Netanyahu has made it clear that he does not trust Mr. Obama and the other negotiating countries. Meanwhile, opposition leader Isaac Herzog stated, “I trust the Obama administration to get a good deal.” While Mr. Herzog does not dismiss the issue outright, he does not overreact to the situation. No Israeli leader can disregard Iranian nuclear ambitions, but Mr. Herzog emphatically stated that all options were still on the table, including a military one. His statement illustrates that the hopeful candidate is still open to the deal and has a more realistic vision of Israeli foreign policy. The replacement of Mr. Netanyahu as prime minister would have allowed the Iranian nuclear deal to continue without further objections or distractions from Israel.

In 2009, the Israeli prime minister declared that he supported a two-state solution in which Palestine would receive land for its own sovereign state, one that extended some legitimacy to the demands of the Palestinians. However, during his campaign, Mr. Netanyahu reneged on this previous statement, pronouncing as long as he is prime minister, there will not be an independent Palestinian state. He feels a strong hostility toward Hamas, a Palestinian militant group that Israel fought a war with during the summer of 2014. The Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations stalled under Mr. Netanyahu and he encourages the continued building of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, actions deemed illegal by the international community. Conversely, Mr. Herzog maintains that the “status quo is unsustainable,” and that he would resume peace talks. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, although at an impasse, and the tensions with Hamas will only improve if both sides are brought back to the negotiating table. Having Mr. Netanyahu in office will only hinder such talks.

The reelection of Prime Minister Netanyahu will prove to be detrimental to Israel as its foreign policy will continue on the same ill-conceived, fatal path. Relations with the United States, arguably Israel’s most important ally, will only get worse since President Obama still has two years left in his term in office. The Iranian nuclear deal is central to global nuclear security and cannot succeed as long as Israel’s leader continues to derail its progress. Further, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will only decline as Israel and Hamas will fight more violent wars and Palestine still won’t be a sovereign state. Accordingly, a change in Israeli leadership would have been advantageous to Israeli foreign policy and its standing in the world.

Photo: Downing Street/Flickr

Kathleen Taylor is a staff writer for Charged Affairs with Young Professionals in Foreign Policy. She is based in the Washington, DC Metro Area.