Although the surprise victory of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the polls has captured the attention of the political world, it is not a concern of foreigners, expect in regards to how Israel’s domestic affairs impact the outside world. American foreign aid to Israel and Netanyahu’s recent speech to a joint-session of Congress has forced Israeli politics into the US, yet the impact of Netanyahu’s leadership on the Palestinian People and the rest of the Middle East is far more important than the political impact on the United States.
With that in mind, it is important to understand the dynamics of Israeli politics. Smaller, more vulnerable nations must be far more focused on foreign affairs and national security than larger, more secure nations, which are far more likely to focus heavily on domestic matters. Israel is a small, non-Muslim country fighting a decades-old war against Muslims in the middle of the Muslim world, thus it has long been a particularly insecure country that must be highly focused on foreign affairs and national security concerns instead of domestic issues.
In many respects, polls predicting the end of Benjamin Netanyahu’s rule were far more surprising than the Prime Minister’s actual win. The defining issues in the Israeli elections were domestic concerns like rising house prices, which would normally be second to national security and foreign relations. Clearly, Israel’s poor relations with its Muslim neighbors means national security, which ultimately drove Right-wing voters to the polls, takes precedence over foreign policy, but national security concerns only came into play in the Eleventh Hour after Netanyahu adopted some rather extreme campaign stances.
Not only is globalized terrorism becoming a far greater threat for Israel, the Peoples of the Middle East are globalizing in terms of developing a far-reaching Muslim identity while they are also democratizing in terms of demanding far more responsive governance. In practice, this means more and more individuals throughout the region see the Palestinian People as their mistreated brothers and the overly aggressive, uncompromising Israeli government, and People, as the enemy.
It also means these uniting Muslim People are going to do more to address the mistreatment of the Palestinian Peoples while regional governments will be pressured to address those demands as well, which will be easier than addressing unmet domestic concerns. Recognizing controlling a quarter of government is statistically a sold win, controlling a fourth of government is actually a small segment of the population.
Because Netanyahu decided to panic voters over the strong turnout of “Arab voters,” vowed to prevent the ultimate goal of creating a Palestinian state, pledged to continue Israeli’s occupation of Palestinian territory, among other divisive, last-minute campaign planks, he managed to win by marginalizing those outside of his base. In particular, Netanyahu chose to marginalize Arabs, who are key to securing regional support for Israeli’s national security interests.
Furthermore, Israel and Iran, in terms of nation-states, are the two biggest troublemakers of the Middle East. Both have a chance to turn the other into the regional pariah. By further polarizing the Israeli government against Muslims, Netanyahu has managed to blow Israel’s chance with him at the helm. As Israel is not the only Middle Eastern nation terrified of a nuclear Iran nor is it the only nation with an opinion the West should consider when it comes to building a nuclear deal with Iran, Iran’s chance to shed its troublemaker status does not depend on Israel.
In settling the Iran nuclear debate, along with a list of other offensives, by reaching a satisfactory nuclear deal or abandoning their nuclear program all together, Iran would lose its status as a pariah. In turn, Israel will become the focal point of regional instability as the number one nation-state troublemaker. Given the dynamics involved, any attempt on behalf of Netanyahu to smooth over the damage done by his polarizing campaign rhetoric or slow Israeli settlement construction in Palestinian territory as a sign of good faith will only be seen as a disingenuous gesture to appease politicians when it is populous outrage that needs quelled.
In terms of the impact on US foreign policy, American support for Israel is becoming increasingly cost prohibitive due to the hardliner approach of leaders like Netanyahu. Unfortunately, supporting Netanyahu’s policy and behavior undermines US influence in the Middle East at a time when it is essential. Despite America’s unique relationship with Israel, Netanyahu is forcing America to choose between the whole of the Middle East and Israel. Quite frankly, it is an unnecessary choice that can have only end with one choice.
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