From the Indian Express, 4 Feb 2013, by Martin Sherman*:
The Israeli election... results surprised virtually everyone. All the pundits had predicted a resounding victory for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and a significant strengthening of the Israeli hawkish rightwing. But a last-minute vote by a large segment for the new Yesh Atid (There is a Future) centre-left party — headed by former TV anchor Yair Lapid and focused on the alleged grievances of Israel’s middle class — completely confounded forecasts.
Thus, for the second time in a row, Netanyahu almost snatched defeat from the jaws of certain victory — as was the case in 2009, when he nearly lost to the Kadima party, despite its being plagued by unprecedented charges of corruption and a disastrous performance record. Just as four years ago, Netanyahu conducted a similarly atrocious election campaign, which stripped him of much of his political strength in parliament, and of much of his personal prestige within his party.
However, despite Netanyahu’s bungling of campaigns, he has shown commendable competence in office. Indeed, he has proved to be a far better PM than an election campaigner. His achievements, in both economics and security, have been impressive by any standard — although he has received little credit for them from a viscerally hostile press.
On first taking office in 1996, his government reined in the huge deficit left by the Rabin-Peres government and steered the country clear of the economic catastrophe that afflicted many Asian economies. Moreover, he managed to bring down Palestinian terror attacks to almost imperceptible levels, after they had soared to unprecedented heights in the wake of the ill-conceived Oslo Accords.
In his second term (2009-2013), Netanyahu can point to impressive achievements as well. Perhaps paradoxically, even perversely, it was precisely the government’s success that precipitated the poor performance in the polls. On the security front — excluding the week-long “Operation Pillar of Defence” last November — Israel is enjoying the longest period of calm for decades. This has relegated security concerns to the back of the public’s mind and allowed more “mundane” socio-economic issues to dominate its agenda.
The Netanyahu government also stewarded the Israeli economy remarkably well through the dire global crisis that affected much of the industrialised world. ...it was on his watch that unemployment, perhaps the most pernicious of all social ills, was kept at, arguably, the lowest levels in the developed world. Moreover, his government had also made significant strides in enhancing competitiveness in markets and lowering prices.
On the international stage, Netanyahu has few, if any, equals. He has made Israel’s case in international forums with unmatched brilliance. I was in Washington in May 2011, when he confronted Barack Obama on the issue of the 1967 borders and delivered his rousing Congressional address. I can thus testify to the huge wave of public support he generated there. Yet, back at home, he was vilified for allegedly undermining US-Israeli relations by the mainstream media, which display an attitude of unmitigated — and unjustified — bias against him.
As mentioned, the prolonged respite from terror relegated security concerns to insignificance in the elections, giving predominance to socio-economic ones. Accordingly, largely untouched by the world economic crisis, Israelis, accustomed to increasing consumption levels, are refusing to tailor their expectations to their means. Consequently, “keeping up with the Joneses” is becoming increasingly onerous, with social pressures pushing many to live beyond their economic ability.
It was this growing resentment, coming not so much from the deprived “have nots” but from the dissatisfied “want mores”, that generated much of the anti-Netanyahu sentiment.
A cursory glance at the results seems to indicate Lapid fared best mainly in well-to-do areas and poorly in those that allegedly suffered from Netanyahu’s economic policies.
Looking ahead, Netanyahu will be forced to face daunting challenges at home and abroad. The most immediate will be the endeavour to fashion a durable coalition out of a melange of potential partners with widely divergent political DNA — ultra-religious versus ultra-secular on domestic issues, concessionary doves versus hardline hawks on foreign policy and security, pro-settlers versus anti-settlers on territorial questions. If he succeeds in this herculean task, he will then have to navigate his prickly relationship with an inherently adversarial second-term Obama, and even more adversarial officials newly appointed in his administration.
Then there is a myriad of dangers in Israel’s regional environs that will call on Netanyahu to contend with the repercussions of the “Arab Spring”, address the deteriorating situation in Sinai and a possible breach of the peace treaty with Egypt by its Islamist regime, cope with menacing developments in Syria and the spectre of an al-Qaeda-affiliated post-Assad regime, confront the increasing intransigence of Palestinians and the fading prospects of a two-state settlement, gear for possible regime change in Jordan and the ascent of Muslim extremists to power. And then of course there is the Iranian nuclear programme.
The Israeli PM’s task is perhaps one of the most challenging that exists. Discharging it effectively will doubtless involve measures that will meet with more than a little displeasure in the international community.
But as the well-known Rabbi Shmuely Boateck, asked — rhetorically — in his recent Jerusalem Post column:
What is preferable: a popular Israel riddled with dead Jews or an unpopular Israel filled with living ones?