Three times might not have been the charm for Israel’s political system. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party reclaimed its position as the largest faction in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in Monday’s vote, the third election in the last year. But the bloc of right-wing and religious parties aligned with Netanyahu failed to win a clear majority of the 120-seat Knesset. Netanyahu has two options to remain in power: build a national-unity coalition with the main opposition Blue and White Party; or entice some defectors from either it or one of the other parties pledged to oppose him and eke out a majority.
Israel’s complicated internal political struggles may seem both baffling and counterproductive to American observers. But Americans should know that Israel is not divided or uncertain about what they generally consider to be the most important issue for the Jewish state: the conflict with the Palestinians.
The latest election may not have decided whether Netanyahu should remain in office. But the results re-confirmed that Israel is largely united on issues of security and peace. It’s true that Blue and White and its leader, former general Benny Gantz, have tried and failed three times in the last eleven months to oust the incumbent. But the opposition actually agrees with Netanyahu on a great deal: In his campaign, Gantz emphasized that he will be just as tough on security as Netanyahu, and that he is just as skeptical of the Palestinian Authority as a peace partner.
Gantz also agrees with Netanyahu about the need to maintain a blockade on Gaza, which is run by the Hamas terrorist movement. He also favors annexing some of the West Bank settlements that the international community has declared to be illegal. He has criticized past Israeli offers to the Palestinians that were predicated on exchanging land for peace. He and his party basically agree with the Likud that past efforts — like the 1993 Oslo Accords, Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza, and offers of statehood that the Palestinians turned down in 2000, 2001, and 2008 — were disasters for Israel. Gantz also supported the Trump Middle East plan that the Palestinians rejected out of hand. In doing so, the opposition is merely reflecting most Israeli public opinion polls, such as a survey of Israelis taken last summer by the liberal-leaning American Jewish Committee, that showed clear majorities opposing even a demilitarized Palestinian state or the dismantling of any settlements under the current circumstances.
The problem is that Palestinian Authority moderates continue to subsidize terrorism, and to share the conviction of Hamas and Islamic Jihad never to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state regardless of its borders. While they do so, the only Israeli constituency for more land for peace offers will be the far Left and anti-Zionist Arab political parties. They are opposed by a broad coalition of Blue and White voters, and those from other small parties both aligned with and opposed to Likud. These voters share Netanyahu’s conviction that, under the present circumstances, a withdrawal from the West Bank to the 1967 lines would be irrational.
The existence of an Israeli consensus on the issue that stretches from the country’s moderate left to its right is news here in the U.S. — at least to the Democrats who want to replace President Trump. Take senator Bernie Sanders, who recently engendered controversy when he branded AIPAC — the pro-Israel lobby — as a platform for “bigotry” and, as he has done throughout his career, refused to speak to their annual gathering. Sanders has also come under fire from Jewish groups for his close ties to supporters of the anti-Israel BDS movement, such as Rep. Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.), and others prone to anti-Semitic rhetoric.
Yet policy, even more than rhetoric, shows how Sanders is out of touch with the realities of the Middle East. He supports ending the international blockade of terrorist-run Gaza and has attacked Israel’s measures of self-defense against attacks from the enclave. He has even proposed diverting some of the U.S. aid Israel gets to Hamas-ruled Gaza. And he continues to advocate pushing the Jewish state to give up the West Bank and to re-partition Jerusalem. This is far outside of the Israeli political mainstream.
In fact, his primary rivals share his belief that the U.S. should pressure the Israeli government to withdraw from the West Bank. Former vice president Joe Biden may have disavowed calls to cut aid to Israel to force it to obey U.S. diktats, but Biden clearly wants to return to the policies of the Obama administration, which regarded the creation of more “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel as essential for peace. He, too, advocates Israel’s withdrawal from of the West Bank and the creation of a Palestinian state there. Such a plan ignores not only the security implications, but also the Palestinian Authority’s continued funding of terror, and its refusal to concede that their century-long war on Zionism has been lost.
President Biden or Sanders would disagree as much with Gantz as with Netanyahu. Even centrist and moderate Democrats don’t understand or even acknowledge the Israeli political consensus that rejects more land for peace schemes. No matter who the Democratic nominee is, should Trump lose this fall, a Democratic president won’t respect the justified skepticism most Israelis hold about peace plans.