Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party defied exit polls showing a neck-and-neck finish with the center-left Zionist Union, to pull off a landslide victory and secure an unprecedented fourth (non-consecutive) term as PM.
The election was widely seen as a referendum on Netanyahu himself, and though American neoconservatives like the Weekly Standard's William Kristol are characterizing the election as a "pretty big repudiation of Obama," inferring that Israelis were motivated by disapproval of President Obama's reaction to Bibi's controversial speech before Congress earlier this month, the election's real tipping point was more likely Netanyahu's desperate appeal to the far-right of the Israeli electorate.
Netanyahu was able to coax voters from smaller parties on the right into the Likud fold by warning of "droves" of Israeli Arabs coming to the polls to exercise their democratic rights, and by reneging on his own promise to seek peace with the Palestinians by promising he would never allow them a state of their own while he's in office.
As Jonathan Chait wrote in NYMag.com, "The availability of Arab voting rights is a longtime point of Israeli pride, a fundamental defense of the principle of Zionism against its existential critics," but Chait surmises that Netanyahu's "only remaining diplomatic strategy will be to deepen Israel's ties with right-wing America, whose support for Israel is not contingent upon it fulfilling its liberal, democratic ideals."
At NationalReview.com, Reihan Salam defends Netanyahu from the charge of "baldfaced racism" by noting his "efforts to improve (Israeli Arabs') economic standing" through educational and industrial initiatives. As it happens, The Joint List, the coalition of Arab parties that so concerned Netanyahu, finished third in the tally of seats in the Knesset. However, Haaretz writes that any talk of an ascendant Arab political force in Israel is "exaggerated hype" because "these radically different groups—Communists, Arab Nationalists, and Islamists" stand no chance of remaining a unified bloc in the Knesset.
But at TheWeek.com, Ryan Cooper writes:
The hidden upside of this rancid politicking is that Netanyahu did both America and Israel a favor by clarifying in plain words what was already the de facto reality in Israel and the occupied territories. And if America and Israel had any sense at all, they'd seize this opportunity to stop heading down the road to grand apartheid.
Cooper adds, "maintaining indefinite control over a subject population with no voting rights is a losing proposition, historically speaking," which begs the question: did Israel just (wittingly or unwittingly) vote to end the peace process and hopes for a two state solution once and for all? Perhaps just as importantly, does re-electing Netanyahu in a landslide make very real the possibility of splitting American support for Israel down party lines?