Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu coasted to victory in Tuesday's elections, defying pre-election polls showing his Likud party trailing his main rival, the center-left Zionist Union. Ever the master politician and brilliant tactician, he used the politics of fear to galvanize his right-wing base, which ultimately secured him a fourth term. Israel, however, may not fare as well as its leader did at the polls.
In a matter of days, Netanyahu exposed his true attitude toward Israel's conflict with the Palestinians, in the process threatening to further erode an already strained relationship with the White House. Less than two weeks ago, Netanyahu declared that his speech of June 2009 at Bar-Ilan University, where he publicly endorsed a demilitarized Palestinian state, is no longer relevant. On Monday, he continued on this theme, announcing that a Palestinian state would not be established under his watch.
These comments were tactical moves aimed at mobilizing his base, but so was his Bar-Ilan speech a maneuver aimed at appeasing U.S. President Barack Obama and quelling criticism from abroad. Ultimately, political expedience led Netanyahu to reveal what many critics had long suspected: He has never supported a two-state solution.
In the last six years of his premiership, Netanyahu has spoken out repeatedly against a withdrawal to the 1967 borders, with mutually agreed land swaps -- the basis for a two-state solution; insisted that Palestinians recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people -- a condition no Palestinian leader can accept; and presided over unprecedented settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians regard as their future capital.
Meanwhile, the Israeli Prime Minister has disparaged Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at every opportunity, asserting that he encourages terrorism -- a claim that was contradicted by the head of Israel's top security service -- and repeating the mantra that Abbas is not a legitimate peace partner. In 2011, he reportedly quashed the Palestinian leader's draft peace agreement that had been secretly negotiated with former Israeli President Shimon Peres. In a less guarded moment, Netanyahu told Israeli writer Etgar Keret that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was "insoluble."
Netanyahu's duplicity on the Palestinian issue has led to a highly dysfunctional relationship with the Obama administration, which has tried, in vain, to broker an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. He made a farce of last year's John Kerry-brokered peace talks by increasing settlement work fourfold during this negotiating period.
Adding fuel to the fire, Netanyahu has repeatedly injected himself into U.S. politics, most recently with his acceptance of an invitation by House Speaker John Boehner to address Congress -- a move that was widely seen as a partisan ploy to undercut the White House.
Obama has yet to respond to Netanyahu's most recent statements, which can only serve to further damage Washington's ties with Jerusalem while contributing to Israel's growing isolation. One European government after another has begun to turn its back on the Israeli government, taking steps to recognize a Palestinian state since it appears less and less likely that one will emerge as a result of negotiations.
But criticism of Netanyahu's approach to the Palestinian issue has also come from none other than the Israeli security community, many of whose members are alarmed at Israel's deteriorating position in the international community in general and its schism with Washington in particular.
A broad array of former generals, ex-heads of Israel Defense Forces military intelligence, and former chiefs of the Mossad and Shin Bet intelligence services have long argued that the status quo is unsustainable and that a two-state solution is vital to Israel's future as a Jewish and democratic state. In the last month, nearly 200 of these former high-ranking security officials launched a campaign demanding a change in leadership in light of what they view as Netanyahu's failure to take any diplomatic initiative while harming one of Israel's greatest security assets: its relationship with the United States.
Israelis did not heed the ex-security officials' warnings when they voted to retain Netanyahu as their Prime Minister. But while Netanyahu's come-from-behind victory may attest to his shrewd political instincts, it will also come with a high cost for his country.
published by CNN at 18 march