The 32nd Israeli government, headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, will largely be remembered as the government that put the Iranian nuclear issue at the top of the international agenda. The rapid schedule of the Iranian nuclear program and the red line Netanyahu pointed to during his speech at the UN General Assembly will let the prime minister put the nuclear threat at the top of the election campaign, too.
As he hinted in his announcement on shortening the government's term, Netanyahu wants to turn the elections into a referendum over which leader is best suited to handle what he describes as an existential threat to Israel. Such a security-oriented agenda is aimed at quashing the social protest and whitewashing the outgoing government's damage to the peace process and Israeli democracy.
After the last elections, Netanyahu's forging of a broad coalition including the Labor Party stirred the hope that he would replace the conservative Revisionist worldview that he absorbed at home with a pragmatic and forward-looking policy. In his speech at Bar-Ilan University a few weeks after becoming prime minister again, Netanyahu cited "promoting peace" as one of his government's three main challenges. He even declared that in his vision of peace, "there are two free peoples living side by side in this small land." Many people in Israel and around the world believed that the prime minister understood the necessity to relinquish most of the occupied territories to keep Israel a Jewish and democratic state.
But to our great disappointment, even though the Arab and Palestinian leaders called on Netanyahu to open negotiations based on the 1967 borders, the prime minister devoted his best efforts to expanding the settlements and nurturing the illegal outposts. The fact that an agreed-on solution based on the two-state principle is becoming more distant means the danger of a violent confrontation with the Palestinians and a new Arab world is approaching.
Hopefully the left and center parties will have the wisdom to put at the top of the election agenda the choice between a policy that helps ensure Israel's democratic identity and a policy that ensures a further entrenchment of the occupation and a perpetuation of the conflict.
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