By Areej Elahi-Siddiqui
With nearly all votes counted on March 20, it was clear by the end of election day that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party had successfully won at least 29 seats in the 120-member unicameral Knesset, comfortably defeating the center-left Zionist Union party and a list of other Israeli Arab parties, according to Yahoo News. Although Netanyahu received strong support during the elections, his victory comes with a price – towards the end of the campaign trail, Netanyahu resorted to extremely hardline rhetoric that alienated both allies and enemies.
Although the hardline conservative promises he made in the crucial days prior to election day, such as vowing to increase settlement construction in East Jerusalem and rejecting the idea of a two-state solution, helped Netanyahu boost his numbers in the polls, he now faces the difficulty of having to prove to an already skeptical world that he hopes to reach peace with his Arab neighbors.
The United States, a long-time ally of Israel, was the first to comment on Netanyahu’s divisive rhetoric after Netanyahu warned on his Facebook page that the Likud party was in danger as “Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls,” according to the Washington Post.
In response to Netanyahu’s claims, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said, “The United States and this administration is deeply concerned about rhetoric that seeks to marginalize Arab-Israeli citizens. It undermines the values and democratic ideals that have been important to our democracy and an important part of what binds the United States and Israel together.”
Earnest also added that the U.S. would have to rethink the best way to bring back a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after Netanyahu publicly rejected the idea.
“Based on those comments, the U.S. will evaluate our position going forward,” said Earnest, according to the Huffington Post, though stressing that Obama still sees a two-state solution as the best way to proceed.
At home, Netanyahu risks backlash from Israel’s Arab citizens who make up a sizeable portion of the population. Aida Tuma-Suleiman, an Arab lawmaker, said that Israeli Arabs have a long history of facing discrimination in Israel and would not forget Netanyahu’s racist remarks so easily.
“Yesterday Netanyahu divided the citizens of Israel. It is them and us, the Jews against the Arabs,” she told Israel’s Channel 10 TV. “I won’t let that go quietly. It is dangerous. If someone in France or England or Belgium would say, ‘Go out and vote because the Jewish Belgians are voting,’ what would have happened?”
Moreover, Israel faces growing pressure from Europe, where a number of countries have recognized a Palestinian state. According to the Huffington Post, German Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schafer said his government took Netanyahu’s comments against Palestinian independence “very seriously.”
“We assume and hope that the current Israeli government’s declared aim remains, which is to enter into talks with the Palestinians about a negotiated two-state solution at the end of which there will be a Palestinian state,” said Schafer.
A European Union diplomat in Brussels also said that E.U. officials consider Netanyahu’s rhetoric a “fundamental breach of the two-state solution.” If Netanyahu sticks to this policy, he said, the E.U would have to use its “leverage.”