Race for Tel Avivhttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/editorials/race-for-tel-aviv-benjamin-netanyahu-israel-5757356/

Race for Tel Aviv

Netanyahu fails to stitch a coalition. Fresh elections could mean another campaign focused on muscular nationalism

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Netanyahu has earned the dubious distinction of becoming the first PM-designate in Israel’s history to be unable to stitch together a coalition.

In July, Benjamin Netanyahu will become the longest-serving prime minister of Israel, beating David Ben-Gurion, the country’s founding prime minister. That milestone for the right-wing Likud’s leader, however, will be bitter-sweet: A month after the general elections concluded in April, the Knesset voted overwhelmingly to dissolve itself, and fresh polls will likely be held in September. After the election results in April, it seemed that Netanyahu had succeeded in projecting himself as the only strongman capable of protecting Israel and the narrative of national security was enough to counter the charges of corruption and impending indictment by the attorney general.

Netanyahu has earned the dubious distinction of becoming the first PM-designate in Israel’s history to be unable to stitch together a coalition. This becomes even more surprising given that the Likud increased its tally by five seats (to 35) in the 120-member Knesset. The prime minister is caught between religious and military hardliners: Former Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, whose party’s support was vital for a right-wing coalition, has insisted that the number of ultra-orthodox Jews in Israel’s military draft be increased, while the religious elements of the prospective coalition opposed the move. The fear, as Israel enters into campaign mode once again, is that the poll-time rhetoric will make the possibility of a meaningful dialogue with Palestine even more remote.

Netanyahu may well believe that projecting an even more muscular nationalism, one which furthers a sense of siege in ordinary Israelis, is his best chance of retaining office. Before the 2015 elections, he had been an advocate of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. His turnaround before that campaign yielded political dividends and at the same time, pushed farther away the possibility of peace. Ahead of the 2019 elections, even the principal Opposition, the newly-formed Blue and White party, maintained a hard line on Palestine. There is the possibility that the political churn in Israel could throw up a more centrist alternative. Or a new government could maintain the status quo or even further the othering of Palestinians. New Delhi, a traditional ally of Palestine with increasingly deep strategic and economic ties with Israel, can only wait and watch. PM Narendra Modi has managed to de-hyphenate relations with Israel and Palestine. India’s relationship with Israel is likely to grow, no matter who wins the race for Tel Aviv.