Despite facing investigation into corruption charges, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s narrow win in Israel’s election last week again confirms the increasing sway of far-right in a large number of countries. From the US to the newly-independent east European countries a sharp rightwards shift has taken place in the entire democratic world. Xenophobia is on the rise. In a number of countries a fear of Islamist terror too has made people look inwards, drawing down mental and physical barriers against the other.
In the case of Israel, Netanyahu’s extreme agenda threatens to undo whatever good work peacemakers may have done so far to try and find a solution to the vexed Palestinian problem. Winning a record fifth term in the face of a stiff challenge from a new party headed by a former army chief would only embolden Netanyahu to ignore the human rights of Palestinians and thus kill any prospect of finding a two-state solution which alone can end the protracted violence and fear in the entire region.
After causing extreme provocation not only to the Palestinians but to the wider Arab world as well by removing Muslim families from their homes in East Jerusalem, on the eve of the poll Netanyahu threatened to annex parts of the West Bank beyond Jerusalem. Earlier he had constructed new housing blocks in the West Bank to signal that in any future deal with the Palestinians occupation of the West Bank will be non-negotiable.
The sad thing is that led by Trump’s America the free world watches on helplessly the inflictions of an aggressive Netanyahu. Trump encouraged him on this path by unilaterally shifting the US embassy to Jerusalem and by ending humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza in order to force the latter to their knees. It may be that support for the Palestinian cause has weakened in recent years due to, first, the violent divide among them, and, two, the increasing bonhomie between Israel and Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, etc.
The role of the Iran-backed Hamas in dividing the Palestinians has further complicated the Israel-Arab equations. However, now that he has won a record fifth term, Netanyahu has an opportunity to try and find a lasting solution to the Palestine problem. With Trump on his side, the two can do it, especially when thanks to its own internal strife the Muslim world is violently divided and weak.
Every peace-loving country has a stake in peace in the Middle East. Netanyahu can prove himself a worthy leader by providing Israel respite from endless strife and violence. Give the beleaguered Palestinians an honourable peace and a homeland in a two-state solution. Strong leaders often have more courage to work for peace than their weak-kneed counterparts. Can Netanyahu become that leader for Israel?