The churn in Israel

Israel is at an impasse after its deadlocked national elections. But the results seem to mark the ebb tide of Benjamin Netanyahu’s domination of that country’s politics. The incumbent Israeli prime minister called a second national election after failing to secure a ruling majority in polls held five months ago. It made no difference: the left-centre Blue and White coalition of Benny Grantz has won two more seats than Netanyahu, though still falling far short of a majority in the Knesset. But it is notable Netanyahu has now twice failed to bring on board rival rightwing parties and his hardening posture on security issues has resulted in a surge in Israeli Arab turnout. His political invincibility seems irretrievably shattered. Even if Netanyahu returns to office by some fluke, it will be as a much weak leader.

While there will be some talk of Prime Minister Narendra Modi losing an important international friend, there will be no major disruption of the India-Israel relationship. There is a robust consensus on maintaining close relations with India. It was a liberal Israeli politician, the late Shimon Peres, who elevated the relationship to where it is today. Successive Israeli governments have provided India valuable military and security assistance, irrespective of the parties in power. With the Modi government now interested in tapping Israel’s world beating capacities in water technology, New Delhi’s only concern will be stability in Tel Aviv. In any case, there is little foreign policy difference between Netanyahu and Gantz. The latter’s coalition is largely built around a dislike for the prime minister than any serious policy difference.

The fading of the Netanyahu era is also a cautionary tale of the limits of nationalist politics in any multicultural polity. He carried out major market reforms in the economy but kept pushing the envelope on the ideological front. In his last few years, his attempts to weaken the Supreme Court to avoid corruption charges and consider taking over the Jordan River valley only strengthened his foes. Israel’s next government will inherit the most threatening external environment that it has had since the 1960s. It could probably do with a government more capable at tending the home fires.

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