Israel’s election aftermath: With eyes wide open

Herb Keinon is the leading journalist at the Jerusalem Post (March 20):

The country knows well that another Netanyahu government means tension with Obama and the world; That it nevertheless opted for this choice says much about how Israelis grasp their own reality.

BibiWins… The public knew very well of the tensions with Obama, and what another Netanyahu term would do to ties with his administration. The public knew very well that the EU may possibly level sanctions again settlement products. The country knew very well that Netanyahu could deepen Israel’s isolation, energize the Palestinians to redouble their diplomatic campaign, and give the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement more ammunition and momentum.

Yet the country still went to ballot box and voted for Netanyahu and the parties on the Right.

The Zionist Union’s Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni held out a promise of an Israel that would once again be accepted in the world, that would not have to dwell alone, that would be respected in the world’s capitals because it would take the diplomatic initiative.

The country either didn’t believe the message, didn’t think it was possible, or a little of both. When evaluating this week’s election results, it is important to widen the lens and look at longer-term trends. And the longer trends show that the Left has not won an election in this country since Ehud Barak in 1999.

The country has changed dramatically since then – both demographically and in terms of outlook.

Demographically, the numbers of those making up the core constituencies of the Right – the religious, the immigrants, those living in the periphery – have grown; while the urban, secular, Ashkenazi numbers making up the Jewish Left have not kept pace.

And in terms of outlook, the terrorism unleashed by the second intifada – followed by mini-wars in Lebanon (2006) and Gaza (2008- 2009 and 2014) – and endless rockets and missile attacks all over the country have had a huge impact.

Israelis feel insecure. This is not made-up, it’s not hype, it’s not phony or fear-mongering. It’s real, and it comes from kids getting kidnapped and murdered, rockets falling into living rooms, and passersby getting stabbed. To understand Israel circa 2015 is to understand that insecurity; and to understand why the country votes as it does is also to understand that insecurity.

To try to combat those insecurities with talk about economic security, diplomatic security or peace negotiations just doesn’t resonate – and it hasn’t resonated since 1999.

To talk to the public using the same language used in 1999, before the intifada; or even in 2009, before the Arab Spring and the titanic changes in the region, does not work. The country has changed; the country’s mentality has changed.

Do people want peace, even people on the Right? Certainly (though there are vastly different ideas of what it is worth to sacrifice to get that peace). Do they think it is possible right now, in this neighborhood, with a weak man at the head of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank; and with Gaza ruled by Hamas, which just a few months ago was busy burrowing tunnels to attack Israeli communities nearby? No.

Using slogans from a different era holding out the prospects of negotiations toward a two-state solution just doesn’t cut it in a country where so many people – because of what they have themselves experienced and seen – feel that train has long ago left the station.

Herzog and Livni tried to frame the campaign as one between hope and fear. They could provide hope, Netanyahu only fear.

But the problem is that Israelis live here – here – in the real Middle East. And when they hear Netanyahu talking about the threat from Iran, the threats of a region completely unhinged, the threats of terrorists wielding knives, guns or rockets, they don’t see him as a maniac from another planet, but as someone who is actually reading the intelligence briefings and looking out the window. They think he is telling the truth.

Those seen as crazy are those promising peace for withdrawal, or giving up land for favor in the eyes of the world. “The people went to bed hoping for change, and woke up with a Netanyahu government,” read a curious headline over an Haaretz op-ed piece online on Wednesday.

Curious because it was the people who went to bed hoping for change, it turns out, who went to the polls earlier in the day and voted for the Netanyahu government.

Why? Because they live here, in the middle of the real Middle East, not an idealized or fantasized one, but the real Middle East, the one currently engulfed in flames.

They voted for Netanyahu because after nine years of experience with him, knowing well his pluses and minuses, they believe he can keep those flames at bay, even if he alienates some friends in the process.

And if he does alienate friends in the process, and there are economic and diplomatic prices to pay, the country said on Tuesday it feels those prices could – and even should – be borne.

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