Nationalism gains in Israel’s election ahead of the Trump administration’s peace plan

Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu won his fourth consecutive, and a historic fifth overall, term as Israel’s Prime Minister on Tuesday. His conservative Likud party increased its parliamentary majority, gaining an additional 5 seats for a total of 35 out of the Knesset’s 120. Likud won more seats than it has in any election since 2003, and the most under Prime Minister Netanyahu’s leadership, with a vote share of approximately 30 percent.

Out of the top four parties, three are conservative and one is centrist, all of which will support PM Netanyahu to lead a coalition government. Benny Gantz, a former military chief, was PM Netanyahu’s primary opponent in the election, with his centrist Blue and White party. Israel’s political left-wing has essentially collapsed, leading a trend in global politics toward conservative – or populist, as the mainstream news media calls it – parties and leaders. The bloc of right-wing and religious Jewish parties is much larger than the bloc of left-wing and Arab parties, altogether earning 65 seats.

Israel is becoming more Orthodox Jewish, a dominance that has been rising since the late 1990s and a trend that will continue. The electorate has largely turned to the right since the 2000-2005 violent Palestinian uprising. Nationalism is increasing in political and cultural life, and the country’s media culture is becoming more conservative as well. Studies show that when elections are called within months of terrorist attacks there is increased conservative support, including in typically left-leaning areas.

PM Netanyahu has a reputation for getting things done. He showcased his rapport with United States President Donald Trump, who recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and is massively popular in Israel, by erecting billboards in the cities showing the two smiling leaders shaking hands. The veteran leader is an ex-commando who served his first term as Prime Minister from 1996 to 1999 and has remained in that role since 2009. Amotz Asa-El, a fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, said, “Much of the electorate evidently feels there is no worthy rival to him, and his political base does not believe that he is a crook,” regarding potential bribery charges.

On the campaign trail, PM Netanyahu dominated the news cycle. He traveled to the US as President Trump signed a decree recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, seized from Syria in the 1967 Arab-Israeli Six Day War. PM Netanyahu visited Russia to thank Moscow for honoring his request to recover the remains of an Israeli soldier lost in Syria. He announced his intention to annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank if re-elected; Palestinians seek a state of their own in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Israel pulled its troops and settlers out of Gaza in 2005 after five years of that era of Palestinian uprising, while maintaining a blockade of the enclave.

Once the new coalition government is sworn is, President Trump is expected to release a peace plan for the region, authored by advisers Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, with input from U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and Mr. Kushner’s aide Avi Berkowitz. Mr. Kushner and Mr. Greenblatt have limited the plan’s distribution over the past two years while they crafted it, and kept it secret “to ensure people approach it with an open mind” when it is released,” according to a senior administration official.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declined to say whether the administration favored a two-state solution and that “Ultimately the individuals in the region will sort this out.” Mr. Kushner and Mr. Greenblatt toured Middle East states in February to promote the economic part of the plan and get opinions about it, without providing a detailed view of its political contents. Gulf governments want to know the details before committing resources to a Palestinian fund.