In a charged election campaign that has been heavy on insults and short on substance, Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians has been notably absent from the discourse.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud Party has offered no plan for what many believe is the country’s most existential problem.
His main challenger in the April 9 vote speaks vaguely of “separation,” while Netanyahu’s hardline partners speak openly of the once unthinkable idea of annexing all or parts of the West Bank.
Talk of a Palestinian state, the international community’s preferred solution for the past two decades, is non-existent. It is a far cry from past elections, when peace with the Palestinians was the central issue for voters.
This apparent lack of interest reflects widespread disillusionment in Israel over years of failed peace efforts. But it also is a testament to Netanyahu’s success in sidelining the issue.
Capitalizing on internal Palestinian divisions and promoting sometimes contradictory policies, Netanyahu has succeeded in managing the conflict without addressing the bigger issue of how two intertwined peoples will live together in the future. Strong backing from the Trump administration has given him an extra boost.
“The peace track is currently in a coma,” said Shmuel Rosner, a senior fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute. “There’s not much hope for a viable solution to be revived in the near future, so people can just keep pushing it aside until someday it comes back to haunt them.”
Netanyahu took office in early 2009 and under heavy pressure from then-President Barack Obama reluctantly stated his support for an independent Palestinian state, albeit with many conditions, which were rejected. Things quickly went downhill, and serious peace talks never took place during Obama’s time in office.
Throughout his tenure, Netanyahu has repeatedly cast blame on the Palestinians, accusing President Mahmoud Abbas, who seeks a negotiated settlement with Israel, of incitement and promoting “terror.”
At the same time, he has maintained behind-the-scenes security cooperation with Abbas’ forces in the West Bank in a joint struggle against the Hamas militant group.
In the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, Netanyahu has engaged in frequent rounds of fighting, but is also conducting behind-the-scenes negotiations with his bitter enemy in hopes of maintaining calm.
The Trump administration has further sidelined the Palestinians by cutting hundreds of millions of dollars in aid and recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, prompting the Palestinians to sever ties with the US.
A long-promised peace plan, which the White House says will be released after the election, faces dim prospects, if it is even released. With the peace process in a deep freeze, it is perhaps no surprise that none of the major Israeli parties are talking about the Palestinians.