By: David Wilson
Since its establishment in 1948, the state of Israel has governed itself through a parliamentary democracy, and the legislative body is the 120-seat Knessets. All Israeli citizens over the age of 18 have the right to vote, and all voters are expected to declare themselves as members of a party, usually either the Likud Party or the Labor Party. The citizens are then ranked within their party based on participation and devotion, so for example, the most devoted and loyal member of the Likud Party is the #1 member. At election time, the citizens then vote not for individuals, but for the political party that they wished to have power. Then, following the vote count, the number of seats awarded to each party is based upon the percentage of the vote that each party has won. The party then chooses the top ranking members to fill those seats. A party only needs 1% of the vote to gain a seat in Parliament, which allows many different voices and opinions to be heard. Because one party rarely gains a large majority of seats, the minority parties usually must form coalitions in order to achieve their goals. Once all of the representatives have been chosen, they then elect a Prime Minister. This is the process through which Benjamin Netanyahu gained power.
Arab- Israeli Conflict
At the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict is the fact that both Israeli Jews and Muslim Arabs claim Jerusalem and its environs as holy land. In the nineteenth century, the idea of Zionism, or the belief that Jews deserve a Semitic State in the region of their holy land, took hold among many Jews in Europe who faced increasingly harsh discrimination and violence. This holy land is also believed to be the homeland of Islam and Christianity. Although Jews began making this journey to the Middle East in the 19th Century, it did not become popular until after the First World War. With the massive influx of Jews into Palestinian lands came violence, and a lot of it. Before World War II, there were small conflicts between Jews and Palestinians, but in 1937 came The Great Revolt, which resulted in 20,000 British troops moving into the area to enforce peace. During World War II, the British mandate did not allow Jews to immigrate into the Israel/ Palestine region. This blockade forced Jews to remain in Europe, where they were brutally subjected to the terrors of the Holocaust, resulting in the death of six million Jews and millions of others. After World War II, the British partitioned Palestine, giving Jews, who made up one-third of the population, 52% of the land, and Arabs, who made up the other two-thirds, just 48% of the land.
In 1967, there was a brutal war between the Arabs and the Israelis, resulting in the death of tens of thousands of people and new borders drawn that gave Israel claim to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the Sinai and Suez Canal and the Golan Heights. This war put Israel in control of territory in which two million more Palestinian Arabs lived. Dispute over these claims are still active today, and violence has been occurring for the last forty years.
Benjamin Netanyahu was first elected to the Prime Minister position in 1996 and served until 1999, and was then re-elected in 2009 and again in 2013. Israel held elections again in March of this year, which resulted in Netanyahu’s reelection to a fourth term as Prime Minister. Netanyahu is on the center-right wing of the political scale, but in his most recent campaign, he targeted the far-right wing conservatives and the undecided. He is the leading member of the Likud party, which has had the majority of control of Israel over the last two decades. He based his campaign around the security issues that Israelis are worried about- security from Palestinians, that is- in order to gain the votes that he needed, however, many believe this strategy was just a distraction from the major social issues that he didn’t want to address- poverty, employment rates, social intolerance of non-Jews. Israel is an extremely divided nation, so Netanyahu was forced to find an issue that would unite the voters behind him. While the people hold very different views on some problems, all of them are concerned with the constant Palestinian threat. Throughout his campaign, up until the last few days, the Prime Minister was theoretically in support of a two-state solution, which was being encouraged by the United States and other Western powers. The Arab-Israeli conflict has been affecting a large portion of the world for decades, mostly through oil embargoes placed upon the powers supporting Israel by Arab states, which is why so many world powers have an interest in Netanyahu’s plans for peace (or lack thereof).
In the last few days of the election, Netanyahu denounced his claim of recognizing a Palestinian state to regain popularity in the polls. This suggests that recognizing a Palestinian state was not one of his priorities since he sacrificed it so quickly.
During the 2015 Knesset election, there were a handful of contending parties, but the two frontrunners were the Likud party and the Zionist Union, a coalition between the Labor party and the Hatnuah party, which was working towards the major goals of both parties involved. The Zionist Union had a strong platform, with one of their main arguments being that they would rebuild the relationship with the United States that President Netanyahu had neglected. Additionally, they pledged to work with Palestinian neighbors at securing a border, however, they did not mention what sacrifices they would be willing to make in order to achieve that, which could be what led to their decisive loss.
Since Israel declared its statehood in 1948, the United States has backed them politically, militarily, and financially. Being one of the first nations to recognize the Jewish state, the U.S. has provided massive amounts of aid to Israel. Today, the country receives approximately $3 billion per year in U.S. aid, which makes up a large portion of Israel’s defense budget. The majority of that money comes from U.S. taxpayers’ dollars, coming in the form of cash and military supplies. The aid from the United States pays for more of Israel’s defense than Israel’s own taxpayers. Additionally, the United States, which has a strong influence as part of the Security Council, has almost always advocated for Israel in international affairs and the United Nations. Since the election of Barack Obama in 2008, relations between Netanyahu and Obama have been tense, with Netanyahu questioning Obama’s commitment to Isreal, while Obama has criticized Isreal’s continued insistence on building new settlements in the West Bank. The tension between the two leaders reached a new level in the spring when Netanyahu accepted an invitation from the Republican-led Congress to address both houses of Congress to critique the Obama Administration’s diplomatic efforts to reach an accord with Iran in an effort to halt the Iranian nuclear program.
Recently, Palestine has attempted to go through the United Nations to be recognized as a state, however the United States says that it, as a member of the Security Council, will veto the action unless Israel will also recognize Palestine. The United States does not want to risk their relationship with Israel by recognizing the state of Palestine before Israel consents. Israel also has the constant threat of an embargo being placed against them by the United States. The world recognizes that the Arab-Israeli conflict has been a massive tragedy. Although the last century in the Middle East has been one of bloody, regional disputes, the effects of this fighting stretch across the globe. The elections earlier this year put in place the government that will determine whether or not to end this cycle of violence and settle on peace, and because of that, Benjamin Netanyahu will be feeling a lot of pressure from around the world during this term.