Eurasia Review: Israel Election: A Vote For Maintaining The Status Quo – OpED

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Given the history of India-Israel ties, not much will change regardless of the government in power in New Delhi.

By Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty

Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu is a whisker away
from becoming prime minister for the fifth time, a record no Israeli
politician has ever achieved. It was not a cakewalk and his opponent,
Benny Gantz, a former army chief and the leader of the Blue and White
Alliance, and a former army chief, put up a creditable challenge winning
almost an equal number of seats in the 120-member Knesset, the Israeli
Parliament. What will tilt the balance in favour of Netanyahu’s
right-wing Likud Party are the other right-wing and ultra-orthodox
Jewish parties that are allied with the Likud. These allies are likely
to give the Likud coalition the majority in the Knesset with 65 seats.
In Israel, no one party has ever got a majority in the Knesset and all
governments since Israel’s independence in 1948 have been coalitions.

Leading
the charge on Twitter in congratulating Netanyahu were Indian Prime
Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump. “My dear friend
Bibi, Congratulations! You are a great friend of India, and I look
forward to continuing to work with you to take our bilateral partnership
to new heights,” Modi said. Netanyahu also tweeted that President Trump
had telephoned to convey his congratulations. Echoing Modi’s “Sabka
Saath, Sabka Vikas”, Netanyahu claimed in his victory speech that he
will be the prime minister for all citizens regardless of their
political affiliation or their religion.

Netanyahu
fought the election on his time-tested platform of security and being
the flag-bearer of protecting Israel from internal and external threats.
On the campaign trail he accused his opponent of allying with Israeli
Arab parties and preparing to create an independent Palestinian State.
With a helping hand from President Trump, Netanyahu also flaunted his
foreign policy success. Trump permitted the shifting of the United
States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move criticised by the
international community as against United Nations Security Council
resolutions. Just before the election, Trump also stated that the US
would recognise Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights,
giving Netanyahu another boost. This again led to international
criticism but both the Trump administration and Israel brushed it off.

Durable
peace in the region has been set back by the Netanyahu government but
blame must also be shared by the Palestinian leadership, divided between
the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)/Palestinian Authority in
the West Bank and the Hamas-ruled Gaza. Between Trump and Netanyahu, we
may well see a proposal for a new peace plan, backed by important Arab
states, which have slowly drifted towards Israel in their anxiety to get
the upper hand in their regional struggle for supremacy with Iran. Not
too many details of this plan are available but speculation has it that
it will fall short of the “two-state solution” with pre-war 1967 borders
for Israel and Palestine, as per the UN resolutions.

Netanyahu
has already declared that he plans to annex the Jewish settlements in
the West Bank, a move which will also directly challenge international
opinion and UN resolutions. There is little hope that Israel will
respect international opinion as long as the US backs the country. Saeb
Erakat, secretary-general of the PLO has commented bitterly that Israeli
voters have elected Netanyahu to continue the endless occupation of the
Palestinian people.

It may not be all
smooth sailing for Netanyahu. In February this year, the Israeli
attorney general decided to indict him on charges of bribery, fraud and
breach of trust in three cases. Netanyahu is accused of accepting
expensive gifts from businessmen and handing out favours to media in
return for favourable publicity. These cases will now become active
after the election. Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing. If he is
charged in court, the Israeli supreme court may direct him to resign.
This Damocles’ sword could be a potential game changer.

For
India, Modi’s tweet indicates continuity in bilateral ties which have
been strengthened under the National Democratic Alliance government.
India has successfully navigated its relationships with all countries in
West Asia, insulating ties with individual countries and de-hyphenating
Israel from Palestine. Israel will continue to remain a strong defence
and technology partner for India. Given the history of India-Israel
ties, not much will change regardless of which government is in power in
New Delhi.


This article originally appeared in Hindustan Times.

Eurasia Review


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