More than two weeks since the country’s elections, Israel has been in a period of political deadlock. Now, President Rivlin has given incumbent Prime Minister Netanyahu the mandate to try and form a new government. After the second national election of the year, the results emerged with no clear winner to be the next Prime Minister. Unity government talks between rival contenders, Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, have faltered and the prospect of a third election in a year is looming.
It has been an historic year for Israeli politics. The back-to-back elections were the first in the country’s history and demonstrate a shift in the political landscape. As of this summer, Netanyahu is the longest serving Prime Minister, but his future in that role is now less than certain. He will need to convince 61 members of the Knesset to support his government; he currently has only 55. If he fails to do so then it is likely that Gantz will be tasked with the job instead.
The Joint List, a bloc of Arab-majority parties that came third in the election have already said they want to remove Netanyahu from power and that Gantz should become Prime Minister. It is the first time since 1992 that an Arab political group has issued an endorsement for an Israeli prime minister.
Regardless of whether Netanyahu is able to form a government in the coming weeks, the election results demonstrate that things are shifting in Israeli politics. The ramifications of whatever happens in the next month will be huge. Netanyahu’s time in office has become increasingly marked by racist rhetoric, scathing attacks on the Supreme Court, and threats of annexing parts of the West Bank. The latter of which he has implied has had the green light from US President Trump.
In contrast, Gantz has previously stated that Israel needs ‘to find a way to not to have dominion over [Palestinians]’. This said, Gantz’s position does not represent a major departure on issues including the West Bank. He has committed to continue the expansion of illegal settlements, and in response to Netanyahu’s annexation plans his party said “we are happy that the Prime Minister has come around to adopt the Blue and White plan to recognise the Jordan Valley”.
It becomes increasingly evident that the international community must redouble efforts to secure a negotiated peace settlement with a two-state solution. As the Liberal Democrat Shadow Foreign Secretary, I am committed to such a solution. I also recognise that annexation would make reaching this considerably less likely. Not only would the move violate international law, it would also lead to further instability and risk providing encouragement to extremists everywhere. The threats from both Netanyahu and Gantz are therefore extremely concerning.
Regardless of whether Netanyahu is now able to form a government, the UK government must act to ensure that the UK formally recognises both states. Rhetoric about a two-state solution is meaningless if we do not even formally recognise one of those states ourselves. The legwork on recognition has already been done for Boris Johnson: my colleague Layla Moran, who is the first UK MP of Palestinian descent, has already brought the legislation to Parliament and it is ready to pass into law.
While threats of annexation are a big step away from a peaceful two-state solution, formally recognising Palestine would be a step closer again. It would help level the playing field and ensure that we can bring an end to the violence. The disproportionate force used by all sides, including the targeting of Israeli civilians by Hamas and Israel’s illegal policy of settlement expansion, is utterly abhorrent and we must do all we can to help secure lasting peace.
As things stand, the agenda has been hijacked by extremists on both sides with very little sign of progress. Meanwhile, Trump’s interventions have been damaging and the UK Conservative government has stayed woefully quiet. With a possible new era of Netanyahu, we must give hope to Palestinians and help secure a two-state solution.
A Liberal Democrat government would immediately recognise the state of Palestine. As Foreign Secretary I would ensure that the UK’s voice as part of the UN Security Council and other multilateral platforms is used to help secure the resumption of peace talks. Regardless of who is the next Israeli PM, this is our duty and it is the right thing to do.