Al Bawaba spoke with Daniel Pipes, president of the Middle East Forum, to gain further perspective on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's current predicament.
Why is Netanyahu still running for Office?
He has indictments hanging over him and hopes to avoid them by staying prime minister. He is now the longest serving PM of Israel ever and hopes to further consolidate his legacy. He sees himself as the best leader in terms of foreign policy in particular, and so he has a variety of motives, both personal and national, to want to remain as prime minister.
What are the possible implications of this elections? Could this be the time for major change in Israel?
It certainly could be. I see three possible outcomes: The first would involve someone, who is currently saying, 'I won't work with Netanyahu,' changing his mind- which could be Gantz, Lieberman, or Peretz. If any of those three do agree to work with him, then there's a resolution government and to one extent or another, Netanyahu stays in power. This seems less likely with Gantz and more so with Lieberman or Peretz.
The second possibility is that Likud parliamentary members depose Netanyahu and vote someone else in as leader, which would make it possible and much easier for Gantz or Lieberman to join with Likud since they are openly saying that they would do so without Netanyahu, presenting him as the obstacle.
And the final option is another election. I don't really see any other alternatives and so I'm inclined to think that Likud leaders will say to Netanyahu, 'Thank you for your service, but the time has come for us to have a new leader.
Unlike past elections, especially the former, a great deal of Arabs ended up rushing to the voting booths and casting in their ballots this time around. Why the sudden change?
We're seeing an anger at Netanyahu. 'Okay, we'll show you...' The important thing about the Arab vote is that for 70 years now, almost without exception, that vote has gone to parties and members who don't want to be operating in the Israeli political context and therefore have a marginal role within it.
The only exception I can think of was 1993 when the Arab members' vote led to the passing of the Oslo accords... Other than that, they've been largely irrelevant. Whether there's 10 of them or 15 of them, they just simply don't participate in the normal work of the Israeli parliament. Maybe that will change now, but I doubt it. Every time an Arab candidate for parliament states, 'I'm going to work on schools and on local security,' he doesn't get anywhere. If the candidate says that he's a great supporter of the PA or Hamas and is angry at the Israeli state, then he gets elected.
Will we be seeing a return to the Oslo Accords and what of the Palestinian issue?
No. Nobody thinks well of [the Oslo Accords] and their terms are largely ignored. The great issue in the recent elections, the one that Lieberman especially has made his core topic, has nothing to do with Palestinians but about secular-religious relations; more precisely, the role of the ultra-orthodox in Israeli life.
Will they serve in the military, will they take English and math courses in school, and so on? That is the burning issue in 2019. The PA and Hamas are there, of course, but they're not the main issue. Unless the Trump plan causes a furor, I don't see much prospect of change.
What's the latest on the "Deal of the Century"?
It's formally on the table. Netanyahu accepted it in June 2009, so it's been Israeli policy for over a decade, but the general assumption is that he did so under duress, that he did so in words only. The distance between the demands of the PA and the government of Israel is vast, and without prospect for an imminent change unless the Trump plan causes a fundamental shift, which it could.
There's a lot of talk about the Trump deal, but few specifics about the actual deal. I have reason to think that I may know it: I think it entails Arab state recognition of Israel and Israeli recognition of Palestine. If that's the case, then it will cause a furor but without creating momentum for negotiations between Israel and the PA.
What led to Netanyahu's downfall?
His most significant error is fighting with allies, such as Liberman, Shaked, and Bennett. If they were all still with him in the Likud party, he would be much stronger. They in part blame his wife Sara; she seems to have strong likes and dislikes, and can influence her husband. That said, although a lot of people never liked him and many are now fed up with him, he retains a core constituency that's strong and large, that sees him having done a good job from the nationalist Israeli point of view.
Will the next Israeli prime minister model himself after his predecessor?
I imagine that Netanyahu's successor will more or less adopt Netanyahu's approach vis-à-vis Trump; what I call being a choir boy- smiling and say yes and doing everything to avoid a fight. It worked for Netanyahu, even if it was painful for him.
In particular, the Tlaib-Omar visit that didn't take place was tough on Netanyahu. He approved it and Trump then said, 'don't let them in,' so he didn't let them in. This was humiliating and it damaged relations with the Democratic Party, but Netanyahu decided that maintaining good relations with Trump was the top priority and followed through with it. I imagine that Gantz, or whoever else might follow, will do the same.