As a practical matter, there was little chance that the Israeli election outcome would have any impact on the prospects for a peace settlement in Israel/Palestine. Benjamin Netanyahu will be returned to office after a campaign in which he proclaimed his readiness to officially annex chunks of the West Bank and his determination to retain “security control” of the whole West Bank forever. But his opponent, Benny Gantz, essentially stood for the status quo, which amounts to creeping annexation. Netanyahu openly scorned any talk of a two-state solution; Gantz avoided such talk.  Peace was not an issue in the campaign, which centered around the personalities of the two contenders.

Netanyahu’s blatantly racist, xenophobic posture prompted an unprecedented amount of criticism of an Israeli prime minister by US presidential aspirants. Bernie Sanders, the only Jew In the 2020 contest, denounced Netanyahu as an extreme rightist, and made clear that it is not anti-Israel to be anti-Netanyahu. Pete Butigieg, who previously had repeatedly gushed about his admiration for Israel, made the same point, decrying Netanyhu’s evident scorn for a two-state solution. And Beto O’Rourke, while dutifully affirming the extreme importance of the US-Israel relationship, called Netanyahu a racist who wants to foreclose any prospects for peace. I don’t know if any of these three guys was aware of the following, which could have had an influence on their positions:

Israel’s election campaign, now in its last days, must be the first in which a sitting Israeli prime minister has sought to win over voters by boasting about how much he insulted a president of the United States.

One of the last campaign videos by Benjamin Netanyahu spliced together media clips of U.S. analysts voicing disbelief back in 2011 at the Israeli prime minister’s public humiliation of Barack Obama.

The ad not only described Netanyahu as “lecturing” Obama, but showed him visibly angering the U.S. president by berating him for chasing “illusions” in his pursuit of peace talks with the Palestinians. It closed with Likud’s campaign slogan: “Netanyahu. Right-wing. Strong.”

In any case, the now fairly open alliance between Bibi’s Likud and Trump’s GOP has made Israel an issue in US partisan politics. Trump has made clear that he will try to paint the Dems as anti-Israel and thus anti-semitic. Democrats, responding both to Bibi’s extremism and to a base that is moving away from knee-jerk support for Israel, are now willing to openly criticize Israeli policies. Good. Heretofore, we have had a bipartisan consensus that Israel can do no wrong now and forever. With the breakdown of that consensus, we might have hope for serious debate. And if a Democrat takes the White House in 2020 having taken a clear anti-Likud stance during the campaign, there might even be hope for real pressure on Israel to move toward peace. I’d like to hear what the other Democratic candidates think about all this.






  1. Richard Pious April 11, 2019 at 2:47 pm

    A little history here: in the 1950s Eisenhower, JFK and LBJ refused to sell arms to Israel. And Ike forced Israel out of Sinai. This ban on arms was only reversed after 1967. In the 1970s Kissinger pressured Israel out of Sinai again. In the 1980s the US pushed hard against Israeli settlement in the occupied territories, and overrode Israeli objections when it came to arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other Arab states. Similarly the Rogers Plan was in essence highly critical of Israeli settlement policy. So to claim that in the past the consensus was that Israel could do no wrong is to betray a lack of historical understanding a perspective. It is only recently, with W. Bush, Obama (with huge arms sales) and Trump, that Israel has enjoyed significantly more support. Even so, Obama pushed the Iran agreement against vehement Netanyahu opposition, and Trump’s plan has elements in it likely to be opposed by the Israeli government. The idea that opposition to Israeli policies is something new is risible, given the history of US-Israeli relations.

    • tonygreco April 11, 2019 at 3:59 pm

      Risible? If you can name one previous instance in which a presidential candidate said we should get tougher on Israel, I’ll laugh along with you. Your historic background is useful, but it’s been the executive branch, not members of Congress or aspiring politicians, where there has been occasional significant pushback against Israel.
      PS I was in something of a rush when I responded earlier, but I would have liked to add that I don’t agree that the US pushed hard against settlement expansion in the ’80s. It all depends on how we define “hard.”

Have a comment?

Required fields are marked (*)