What A 4th Consecutive Term Of Netanyahu Will Mean For Israel
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Well, if things go as expected, Netanyahu is on track to become Israel's longest-serving prime minister. To talk about Netanyahu's long career as prime minister of Israel, we're joined now by Daniel Shapiro. He was the U.S. ambassador to Israel during the Obama administration, and he joins us from Tel Aviv. Welcome.
DANIEL SHAPIRO: Thank you. Great to be with you.
CHANG: So this will be Netanyahu's fourth consecutive term, but it's his fifth term overall as prime minister. Describe how you think Netanyahu has changed from the day he was first elected prime minister in 1996.
SHAPIRO: I think he's gone through several phases, at least on the issue that is so central to any Israeli prime minister - the Palestinian issue. He started as a real hard-liner. He dragged his feet on implementing the Oslo Accords they inherited from Prime Minister Rabin and worked on with the Clinton administration. And then when he left office in 1999 and returned 10 years later, he encountered President Obama, who wanted to try, yet again, to press forward on trying to achieve a two-state solution with the Palestinians.
And I - was then that I felt he really went through an intellectual transformation. He gave a very important speech in 2009, where he, for the first time, endorsed a two-state solution. But also, he told us privately that he really understood, in a new way, the strategic imperative for Israel of separating from the Palestinians, which would have to be in some form of two states. And we tried two rounds of negotiations. They both failed. And I think after the failure, he somewhat reverted back to his roots and fell into the embrace of his base. He concluded there was no Palestinian partner, but he also decided that was going to be his last attempt at trying to achieve a two-state solution.
CHANG: Has Netanyahu grown more and more right-wing? Because Israel has grown more and more right-wing.
SHAPIRO: When he came back into office in 2009, he sought a coalition that had balance in it that placed him almost in the middle of the coalition with parties to his right and parties to his left. And that allowed him to sort of play the forces back and forth against each other. And he was the little linchpin, and he could curve - move forward. He had two consecutive governments like that from the 2009 election and the 2013 election. Starting with the 2015 election, the coalition math didn't offer that possibility to him. And his most recent government - the one that's outgoing now - was much more to the right. In fact, he may have been one of the most left-wing members of his government. And that very much looks like it will be the case in the new government that he's likely to form.
So as any politician has done, he's adjusted. He's followed where the winds have gone, and he has governed from a more right-wing perspective. He doesn't have the left-wing balancer. And the indication of that came in this final weekend...
SHAPIRO: ...Of the campaign when he, for the first time in his career, said that he would be open to annexation of parts of the West Bank. He's always resisted that, always knowing that that could pull Israel down a path of irreversible permanent control of Palestinians. Nevertheless, that's what many of his own supporters in other parties in the coalition and even in his Likud party are looking for. And he viewed that as a necessary commitment in the closing phase of the campaign. They're going to try to hold him to it once they take office in a few weeks' time.
CHANG: How would you say Netanyahu has changed Israel in the past decade? I know that's a huge question.
CHANG: But I'm curious how you would answer that.
SHAPIRO: Yeah. He's changed Israel, in part, by responding to the changing views and attitudes of Israelis that have moved in the direction of a more right-wing approach and a less accommodating approach toward a two-state solution. He has changed Israel by heavily promoting Israel's high tech sector with research and development funds and helping open markets in new countries all over the world. He's changed Israel by developing relations with many of Israel's Sunni Arab neighbors, besides Egypt and Jordan that it has peace treaties with.
But Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, several of the other Gulf states see Israel under Netanyahu as a partner - a partner in confronting their common enemy, which is Iran, and a partner in trying to convince the United States under President Trump to take a very hard line. But those relationships may be set up for a test now if he does indeed proceed with annexation moves in the West Bank. It may be very hard for those Arab states to sustain the kind of momentum that he and they have built together toward warmer relations between Israel and those countries while the two-state solution appears to be nearing its final stage of life.
CHANG: Daniel Shapiro was the former U.S. ambassador to Israel under President Obama. Thank you very much for joining us today.
SHAPIRO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.