Netanyahu and Gantz: Israel Caught Between the Lesser of Two Evils


The Joint List Alliance, a coalition of Arab Israeli parties, could be kingmakers. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Observers around the world have been abuzz with the prospect that Benjamin Netanyahu’s tenure as prime minister of Israel, which recently surpassed that of David Ben-Gurion as the longest in the nation’s history, may potentially be at an end. 

Neither Netanyahu’s Likud Party nor the recently formed Blue and White Alliance have managed to form a coalition government.  Blue and White achieved a plurality in the Knesset but appears reluctant to build a coalition with the far left and the Arab Israeli Joint List Alliance, while Likud’s overtures to the Ultra-Orthodox and far right have been fruitless.  

Although Blue and White was founded to oppose Netanyahu, early talks for a unity government have taken place.  As of now, the future of the Knesset is unclear.  What is clear is that Benjamin Netanyahu’s firm grasp on the prime minister’s seat is at an end, with the most optimistic outcome for him perhaps being a rotated premiership with Blue and White leader Benny Gantz.

In recent years, the prime minister has leaned into the rise of authoritarian and nationalist politicians throughout the world, becoming increasingly bold in his violations of international treaties and laws.  Netanyahu’s policies have flown in the face of a peaceful two state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.  

His government has not only defended but actively promoted the spread of Israeli settlements in the West Bank with the intention of annexing said areas, in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.  With the support of the U.S. government, Israel also recently reaffirmed its 1981 annexation of the Golan Heights, an area recognized by the UN as Syrian territory. 

Both in tandem with and separate from the expansion of settlements, the IDF has carried on a policy of demolition of Palestinian homes, ostensibly for the purposes of terrorism deterrence.  Whenever tensions have boiled over in recent years, casualties have been heavily tilted toward Palestinians, and overwhelmingly civilians, as was the case in the 2014 unrests.  

Egregious acts of terrorism have been carried out in the name of Palestinian liberation, there is no doubt, but this is hardly a justification for the denial of fundamental rights for millions. Peter Beinart perhaps put it best when he recently stated “Palestinians don’t have to be saints in order to have the basic rights we all take for granted.”

Netanyahu has been less than agreeable in dealing with Israel’s Arab citizens as well, ramping up anti-Arab policy and rhetoric in the leadup to this most recent election.  The Prime Minister floated claims of Arab foul play in the electoral process and attempted to push through legislation increasing surveillance of Arab communities. Netanyahu’s official Facebook page went so far as to declare that “Arabs want to annihilate us all — women, children and men.”

There has been a fear among some that an end to the Netanyahu regime will lead to unwarranted celebration from those seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and unfortunately these fears seem warranted.  If Netanyahu does in fact lose power and the Blue and White Party is able to assemble a government, it seems that Israeli security and foreign policy will largely remain unchanged.  

While Benny Gantz holds a vaguely left position on socio-economic issues, he has echoed Netanyahu in regard to the longstanding conflict with Palestine.  This is hardly surprising, as Gantz was a career military man and served as Commander-in-Chief of the IDF from 2011 to 2015.  Indeed, this was a selling point of his campaign, with jingoistic ads callously touting the number of Palestinian fighters killed during 2014 conflicts and demonstrating how parts of Gaza had been bombed “back to the stone age.”

Discussion of this conflict often turns to the question of whether Israel can function as both a Jewish and democratic state.  Discussion on this would seem somewhat unnecessary; the Jewish community is one which has been attacked and ostracized throughout history, and it goes without saying that a nation can simultaneously protect a historically vulnerable group while also assuring a free democratic process.  A nation cannot at once tout itself as a bastion of liberal democracy while at the same time indefinitely holding millions of people in what are effectively open-air prisons.

What is of concern is not so much whether a state can be both Jewish and democratic, but rather the manner in which the Israeli government has approached this balance.  Under Netanyahu, government rhetoric and policy has become increasingly exclusionist on ethno-religious bases. While majority Arab parties like those of the Joint List have gained some traction, now forming the third largest party in the Knesset, they nonetheless have little to no actual political clout.  Many of the actions of Netanyahu and his ilk seem to suggest that they believe Israel’s identity as a Jewish state means that it is designed solely to service the interests of Jewish people. It is this skewed interpretation that does in fact contravene with the principles of a democratic state.

President Reuven Rivlin has called upon Netanyahu to attempt to form a government, but most signs point to his inevitable defeat, all the more bad news for him as a loss of power could open up Netanyahu to pending corruption indictments. If in the coming weeks both Netanyahu and Gantz fail in this endeavor, it well may be that a third round of elections is called to divine a clearer majority.  

If my voice is in anyway representative of the broader left on Israeli politics, I think I can say with some certainty that Netanyahu will not be missed, and the neutering of his power is a welcome change to the trend of far-right authoritarians finding success around the world.  But regardless of who emerges victorious from this messy cycle of elections, it is unlikely that prospects for Palestinians will see significant improvement in the foreseeable future, a reality that all those concerned with the universal protection of human rights should rightfully lament.


Kyle Chin, FCRH ’21, is a political science major from Malverne, NY.