Benjamin Netanyahu lost his role as Israel’s Prime Minister over this past June weekend. He served as the longest running head of Israel, and oversaw the country’s emergence as a leading force for stability and democracy in the turbulent Middle East.
Israeli politics have principally been shaped by four regional realities: The 2000-2004 Two Percent War/ Second Intifada; the “Arab Spring”; the dangerous aspirations of Iran; and the demographics of the Ultra-Orthodox in Israel. It is with that backdrop that one must assess why Israel elected the same politician over-and-again in a vigorous democracy, and what future governments of Israel will look like.
The 2000-2004 Two Percent War/ Second Intifada
and Hamas 2006 and 2007
The Israel-Palestinian conflict was scheduled to reach its conclusion in September 2000 at the five-year anniversary of the Oslo Accords. Rather than accept less than all of his stated goals, the president of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat, opted to launch a murderous campaign against Israelis. The “Second Intifada” or Two Percent War watched repeated attacks of Palestinian Arabs blowing up buses and pizza stores to deliberately kill women and children. Only with the construction of the separation barrier was Israel able to stop the Palestinian terrorism.
Hawkish Ariel Sharon, who headed the Likud Party (and later, Kadima) was elected to head the government several times, in March 2001, February 2003 and November 2005, as Israelis internalized that Palestinians would rather slaughter Israelis than make peace. When Palestinians later elected the political-terrorist group Hamas to a majority of the Palestinian parliament in 2006 and watched it take over Gaza in 2007, Israelis understood that land-for-peace was in fact land-for-terror. Israelis clearly saw reality despite cataracts of hope, and elected a leader they thought had a firm grasp of the intentions of Palestinian Arabs.
After Sharon’s debacle in leaving Gaza in 2005 and drift into a coma, it was time for Netanyahu to make his comeback as head of the Likud Party. He assumed the Prime Minister role as head of Likud in March 2009.
The Arab Spring 2011-
The Muslim Arab world has long been ruled with an iron hand by monarchies which lived rich lives while their populations lived in abject poverty. In late 2010, the Arab populations had had enough. Riots to oust leaders sprung up throughout the region including in Tunisia, Yemen, Libya, Egypt, Syria and Bahrain. In some countries, leaders were ousted while in others – like Syria – the leadership committed war crimes against its own citizenry to remain in power.
How much the thriving economy and democracy of Israel, right in the heart of the region, inspired the popular Arab revolts in the region will be debated. However, what was abundantly clear to the entire world, was that the Arab world was at war with itself, and Israel was a beacon of stability in a vicious neighborhood.
Israelis understood this. They watched countries around them implode while their economy skyrocketed. They re-elected Netanyahu in 2013 as he offered humanitarian aid to victims of the Syrian Civil War, despite the two countries being officially at war.
Iranian Nuclear Ambitions and Sponsorship of Terrorism
Iran has been listed on the U.S. State Department as a state sponsor of terrorism since 1984. The Islamic regime has repeatedly stated since at least 2005, that Israel should be wiped from the map, and it has taken various steps to make that happen.
Iran funds Hezbollah in Lebanon (went to war with Israel in 2006) and various Palestinian Arab terrorist groups in Gaza (went to war with Israel in 2008-9, 2012 and 2014). It also assists in the creation of an advanced military platform in Syria (2018-).
And over the past decade, it has advanced its own nuclear weapons program.
The promotion of terrorist groups is horrible enough and forces Israel into military confrontations on multiple fronts. But nuclear weapons in the hands of such a government is completely unacceptable. Not only to every Israeli but to various Arab countries in the region including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.
Netanyahu capitalized on the collective fear of a nuclear Iran and struck the “Abraham Accords” normalization agreements with Bahrain, the UAE, Sudan and Morocco. More countries will likely follow.
The Israeli street was thrilled with Netanyahu’s peace agreements and aggressively combatting Iran’s nuclear ambitions both militarily and politically.
The Demographics of Haredis
There is a common misperception of what a typical Israeli looks like. To read the news, one would think that they are all White-looking Jews like Netanyahu. In fact, the majority of Israeli Jews are from Arab countries and are as Brown as the Israeli non-Jewish population which stands at roughly 25% of the country. In all, White Israeli Jews make up roughly 20-25% of the 9 million citizens.
Within both the European-looking and Arab-looking Jewish population, there is a rapidly growing ultra-Orthodox population, called Haredim. This ultra-Orthodox group now numbers roughly 1.2 million people, or 13% of the country. They have many more children than the non-Haredi Israelis (4.2% annual growth rate versus 1.4%) and their youth account for 58% of the population (compared to 30% for non-Haredi).
In short, they are the future of Israel, should current trends continue.
Netanyahu actively courted their support in his various election wins. While the ultra-Orthodox typically voted for their own parties (Shas and United Torah Judaism), they aligned with Likud to form governing coalitions, as Netanyahu promised them funding for their yeshivas and accommodations for army service.
Netanyahu may no longer be the Israeli Prime Minister but his Likud party trounced all other political parties with 30 seats compared to second place Yesh Atid with 17. More so, the backdrop of Palestinian Arabs unwilling to compromise for peace, Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the rise of ultra-Orthodox community make his positions – if not a comeback of his person – likely to remain.
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