Benjamin Netanyahu appears headed for re-election as prime minister of Israel.
Where the country is headed is less clear. Its direction doesn’t just have profound implications for Israelis, Palestinians and others in the region, but for Americans as well. U.S. lawmakers, while continuing the legacy of bipartisan support of America’s longtime ally, should also remain stalwart in their support of a two-state solution, which is in Israel’s best long-term interest.
Netanyahu’s Likud Party, as well as at least four right-wing and religious parties that previously pledged support, should be able to cobble a coalition that would continue a rule that is soon to surpass that of David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founding leader, in longevity.
But Netanyahu is not the “king of Israel,” as some chanted at a late-night victory celebration. He is an elected official with some significant achievements, and some significant flaws, including corruption scandals that soon could lead to an indictment on bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
The achievements are apparent in Israel’s booming economy, especially its tech sector. Ron Dermer, Israeli ambassador to the United States, who met with the Star Tribune Editorial Board for an off-the-record session last week, touted the country’s economic strength during a speech to the Economic Club of Minnesota.
There have been security achievements, too, which allowed Netanyahu to beat a Blue and White coalition led by three former generals, including Benny Gantz, a former chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Forces.
Citing the threats from Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Assad government and other armed groups in Syria and the omnipresent malevolence of Iran throughout the region, David Makovsky, director of the Project on Arab-Israel Relations at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told an editorial writer that, “in the big picture, Netanyahu’s victory was a function of geography.”
Netanyahu, his voters believed, successfully managed these threats. And, Makovsky added, the prime minister’s approach to two world leaders — Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump — also impressed many security-minded voters.
In particular, Trump’s election-eve tweet that the U.S. should recognize Israeli authority over the Golan Heights, the Syrian territory seized in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, was a boost to Likud, which featured a photo of a smiling Netanyahu and Trump in campaign posters. (Trump previously announced the move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and the U.S. abrogation of the Iran nuclear deal, two other victories for Netanyahu.)
Trump should resist endorsing Netanyahu’s last-minute campaign pledge to begin the process of extending sovereignty over portions of the West Bank that Palestinians believe should be part of their future state. Whether such a move would lead to full annexation — and the effective death of the two-state solution — remains to be seen. But Netanyahu may bargain such a move in exchange for coalition lawmakers to pass a law that would retroactively give him immunity from prosecution.
Trump has pledged to unveil a two-state peace plan, an already daunting process that could be made impossible by West Bank annexation.
U.S. lawmakers — especially those who are so outspoken in their support of Israel — should press Netanyahu to resist such a move and continue the still-official policy of favoring a two-state solution. A one-state outcome, Makovsky said, could put Israel “on the horns of a horrible dilemma” of jeopardizing its unique status as a Jewish and democratic nation. And that could risk the country’s enduring support in the U.S. and elsewhere.