Recently, Benjamin Netanyahu was inaugurated as Prime Minister of Israel for the sixth time. This election victory comes just 1,5 years after being removed as Prime Minister in June 2021. Currently, Netanyahu is serving his 16th year in this position (1996 – 1999; 2009 – 2021; 2022 – present). In general, this development did not receive much media attention, but political scientists showed great concern regarding the re-election of Netanyahu, who is considered to be a far-right and authoritarian politician. Especially in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict on the lands of Palestine, defendants of the Arab cause fear increasing pressure and violence as Netanyahu was one of the most offensive and assertive in terms of territorial questions. In other words, Netanyahu is likely to push for a complete unification of Israel over the territory of Palestine. It is also unclear how the return of Netanyahu will affect the power balance in the Middle East when considering the recent turmoil in opposing Iran. Another area where Netanyahu is likely to be influential is Ukraine. Since the incumbent President of Ukraine, too, is Jewish, he can therefore not be viewed as independent from Israel. Yet, Netanyahu used to entertain quite warm relations with the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin. This article claims that Netanyahu’s return to the post of Prime Minister of Israel was necessary, unsurprising and will not bring significant changes to Israeli politics, though an intensification of policy action can be expected.
Same Goals, Different Names
The Israeli political system is characterised by great stability. Even during times in which Israel did not have a consolidated state structure, the Jewish society was never marked with severe societal disruptions, revolutions and rifts – it showed great coherence and efficiency in cooperation. Within such a constellation, the democratic ideal is especially difficult to realise because an artificial separation of interests must be created. Since the democratic state principle is based on the premise that societies are in themselves very heterogeneous, regardless of which parameter of measurement, the categorisation of the society in political parties can be done. Why this is nonetheless a bad idea, is discussed in great detail in the book DEVLET. However, the Jewish society was never subject to such differences – at least the differences are small enough to be bridged. Since the contemporary democratic understanding requires the existence of different political options for citizens to choose from, Israel faces a trade-off: either the concentration of power and abandoning the contemporary democratic or circumventing political inefficiencies by creating artificial political streams. Abandoning the democratic system is currently unthinkable, due to the normative repercussions that are tied to it. Aristocratic or monarchic states face greater economic and political hurdles in international conduct and are significantly less effective in public diplomacy efforts.
Therefore, Israel opted to create a democratic system in which citizens basically choose from a limited pool of politicians in different camps with the same political agenda. They are tied to one another through a web of professional and personal connections. Ehud Barak, for example, served under three different Prime Ministers of different parties in different ministerial positions. Among the 14 Prime Ministers of Israel, 5 returned to office for a non-consecutive term. Isaac Herzog, reigning President of Israel, is the son of former President Chaim Herzog. Ezer Weizman, was the nephew of Chaim Weizman, both former Presidents of Israel. Also, the party landscape in Israel is in frequent motion. Mergers, dissolutions and rebranding are common here. This is usually the case in states where the political orientation is inherently homogeneous but subject to pressures to display variance to qualify for the label of democracy. We can compare the United States of America, the United Kingdom and Germany with relatively stable party landscapes with Israel and Turkiye. Former are characterised by visible societal rifts along ideological and socio-economic lines. Turkiye and Israel, however, have a very dynamic party landscape, though being socio-economically and ideologically very homogeneous. This is because the democratic system as it is applied in Europe is not a viable construct for such homogeneous nations. But in order not to be counted as a dictatorship and lose diplomatic and economic value on the international plane, those states need to appear as a fragmented political system that offers its citizens options to choose from.
That being so, it is not very surprising that Netanyahu returned to power so quickly. He is one of the most successful and experienced Prime Ministers of this young nation. He proved that he can further the agenda of Israel, mainly through territorial gains. Next to the massive advances in the dispute around the remaining Palestinian lands, he also achieved to annex the Golan Heights amidst the turmoil of the Syrian War. Also, he managed to steer Israel through a multitude of conflicts and sensitive situations in neighbouring countries. Though not fully proven, his most notable achievement is the destabilisation of Iran through long-term media campaigns in an effort to stir unrest, which was finally successful last year. More visible were his successful lobbying efforts to convince the international state community that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, leading to harsh sanctions on Israel’s closest rival.
Stability and Longevity
But Benjamin Netanyahu is only a name – though admittedly with a quite talented face behind it. He was able to further Israeli interest in a multitude of ways and mostly managed to avoid conflict. Surely, seen from the international perspective, he is a harsh and disreputable politician with an unscrupulous way to get Israel’s way. But when viewing it from the perspective of the people who he represents and is responsible for, he has done a phenomenal job – and he will continue to do so. Most likely, he will intensify his efforts to drive out the Arabs from Palestine and also expand Israel’s influence in Ukraine, as mentioned above. Iran, too, should expect more fire from Netanyahu. Regardless of their political skill level and support by their homogeneous society, leaders with great track records and suitable skillsets to expand their power usually look to leave a significant mark and reserve their pages in history books. Netanyahu has not done this so far but is getting older, which is why we should expect a more radical version of him. Nonetheless, he is more than replaceable without affecting Israel’s course of action. The next man up will pick up right where Netanyahu left. A nephew, a son, a former President or Prime Minister, the next person’s name will not be an unfamiliar one.
Israel has found a way to preserve their socio-ideological homogeneity in the face of an international landscape of democratic multiparty systems. By sustaining a vivid party landscape with a network of interrelated politicians, the election of the Prime Minister does not really alter the course of policy action in Israel. Simultaneously, they appear as a normatively acceptable partner to other nations. This has helped Israel to establish a well-functioning and stable political system and will also be the basis for future success. In this style, there are no breaks in the long-term development of the nation, which implies two great advantages. First, it means that policy goals can be achieved more effectively. Secondly, a strategic variation in time can be included in the process of achieving those goals. Sometimes, it is better to slowly progress, in order not to draw attention from conflicting actors. In essence, Israel is moving in accordance with its societal core. As outlined in DEVLET, nations that are able to shape politics in accordance with their culture are inherently engaging in genuine knowledge production. Though Israel is not fully doing the latter, it is definitely moving with a great deal of efficiency towards the realisation of its policy goals. Its approach to stability and longevity seems to be the highest premise of the young Israeli nation. No wonder they brought back their brightest boy.