In last week’s election, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defied polls, surprised pundits and confounded expectations by pulling off a clear victory. We congratulate him as he negotiates a coalition for his historic fourth term as prime minister.
We are concerned, however, that there was a heavy price for Netanyahu’s victory. His last-minute renunciation of support for a two-state solution and his warning that Arab Israelis were going to the polls “in droves” were very troubling. Although we are heartened that Netanyahu appears to be walking back his opposition to a future Palestinian state, we remain concerned that the pre-election declarations have done Israel and its supporters serious damage. In that regard, we agree with U.S. Mideast peace negotiator and former ambassador Martin Indyk, who said, “On his way to election victory, Netanyahu broke a lot of crockery in [Israel’s] relationship [with the United States].” While we have faith that that relationship is fundamentally sound, we may soon find out what the broken crockery consists of.
Netanyahu’s post-election Washington “to-do list” is long — beginning with the need to do whatever he can to reset his relationship with the Obama White House. On the international level, we are concerned that Netanyahu has handed the world what appears to be proof that the Jewish state and its leader are not serious about the peace process. He needs to address that issue clearly and directly. Further, those who question Israel’s democratic bona fides will find ammunition in the pre-election words of a prime minister who appears to fear Arab Israelis exercising their right to vote rather than welcome it.
But that’s not all. There is collateral damage that could prove even more challenging. Beginning with his decision to embrace Mitt Romney in his presidential bid and continuing with his public spat with the White House over his recent speech to Congress, Netanyahu’s overtly political moves have exacerbated the wedge between Jews in this country when it comes to support for Israel. While some take comfort in Netanyahu’s explanations about his controversial actions and statements, others do not. Some will defend him to the hilt, but others, fatigued by these apparently avoidable episodes, express anger, frustration and lessened support. This is most unfortunate.
Israel is central to Jewish identity and survival. We need the prime minister of the State of Israel to serve as a uniting force for world Jewry and to do everything he can to stay away from partisan bickering and pettiness. It is time for the prime minister to push the reset button, and mean it. That’s what leadership demands.