GZERO Media logo

Israel: Bibi Netanyahu Puts Democracy On the Ballot

Israel: Bibi Netanyahu Puts Democracy On the Ballot

Today, Israelis will go to the polls to deliver a verdict on ten years of Prime Minister Benjamin ("Bibi") Netanyahu's leadership.

On the one hand, Netanyahu has overseen one of the most prosperous decades in Israel's history while keeping Israel reasonably safe and expanding the country's international influence.

On the other, his polarizing politics have deepened social divides between left and right, between urban and rural, and between religious and secular Israelis. What's more, he is currently facing several corruption investigations that could put him on trial this summer.


But Bibi's last-minute campaign pledge to unilaterally extend Israeli sovereignty over outlying settlements in the West Bank added a new consideration for voters – one that touches on an existential question for the state of Israel.

Thirty years ago, the New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, paraphrasing Israel's founding father David Ben-Gurion, famously pointed out that Israel faces an impossible triangle: the country can never simultaneously 1) be a representative democracy, 2) be a Jewish state, and 3) include all the Biblical land of Israel (the West Bank), which is inhabited by several million Palestinians. Any two of those things are possible – not all three at once.

Netanyahu's proposal, to be precise, entails extending sovereignty over settlements, rather than all of the West Bank. But insofar as it may open the way to taking broader direct control of the West Bank (as settlements and linkages between them expand), it suggests he is comfortable throwing in his lot with the second two conditions – an avowedly Jewish state with control over the lands of biblical Israel.

Netanyahu would have to tread carefully here. Any policy that erodes even the extremely limited self-government that Palestinians currently enjoy in the West Bank would create a situation in which Israel rules directly over millions of people who have no say at all in their government. That would make it impossible for Israel to present itself credibly as a democracy.

What will Israeli voters make of this added consideration as they head to the polls today? More to the point – what do you think is the best way for Israel to reconcile this impossible trilemma?

Want more? Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak speaks to GZERO Media about Israel's rough neighborhood


CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that Netanyahu had proposed extending sovereignty over the whole of the West Bank. In fact, his proposal was to extend sovereignty over settlements, including outlying ones that are not contiguous with the main settlement blocs adjacent to Israel proper.

Carbon has a bad rep, but did you know it's a building block of life? As atoms evolved, carbon trapped in CO2 was freed, giving way to the creation of complex molecules that use photosynthesis to convert carbon to food. Soon after, plants, herbivores, and carnivores began populating the earth and the cycle of life began.

Learn more about how carbon created life on Earth in the second episode of Eni's Story of CO2 series.

Join us tomorrow at 11 am ET for a GZERO Town Hall livestream event, Ending the COVID-19 Pandemic, to learn about the latest in the global hunt for a COVID-19 vaccine.

Watch here at 11am ET: https://www.gzeromedia.com/events/town-hall-ending-the-covid-19-pandemic-livestream/

Our panel will discuss where things really stand on vaccine development, the political and economic challenges of distribution, and what societies need to be focused on until vaccine arrives in large scale. This event is the second in a series presented by GZERO Media in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Eurasia Group.

Apoorva Mandavilli, science & global health reporter for the New York Times, will moderate a conversation with:

  • Lynda Stuart, Deputy Director, Vaccines & Human Immunobiology, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Rohitesh Dhawan, Managing Director, Energy, Climate & Resources, Eurasia Group
  • Mark Suzman, CEO, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Gayle E. Smith, President & CEO, ONE Campaign and former Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development

Add to Calendar


Sign up here to get alerts about future GZERO Media events.

The long-simmering conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over a region called Nagorno-Karabakh erupted over the weekend, with more than 50 killed (so far) in the fiercest fighting in years. Will it escalate into an all-out war that threatens regional stability and drags in major outside players?

What's the background? For years, Armenia and Azerbaijan have been at odds over the rugged highlands of Nagorno-Karabakh, which lies between them. In the dying days of the USSR, the two sides fought a bloody six-year war to control the enclave, which was part of Muslim-majority Azerbaijan but mainly populated by ethnic Armenian Christians.

The conflict ended in 1994 with over 30,000 dead, more than one million displaced, and a fragile truce that left Nagorno-Karabakh as a de facto independent state, recognized and supported by Armenia but not by most other countries, including Azerbaijan. Low-level clashes have persisted ever since — including deadly skirmishes in 2016 — and both governments often use the conflict to stoke nationalist flames at home.

Although the trigger for the latest violence is still unclear, bilateral tensions have been rising since mid-July, when 16 soldiers died in border clashes. That violence sparked an uproar in Azerbaijan, where thousands of Azeris took to the streets calling for the army to "recapture" Nagorno-Karabakh. Now, both sides are accusing each other of throwing the first punch, and have declared martial law.

A war over the enclave would resonate far beyond the region. The South Caucasus, where Armenia and Azerbaijan are located, has enormous strategic importance because it is crossed by two major energy pipelines that carry Azeri oil and Caspian Sea gas to Turkey and Europe.

Two outside players — Turkey and Russia — are on opposite sides of the conflict. Turkey has close relations with fellow Turkic Azerbaijan, and historically there is little love lost between Ankara and the Armenians. Moreover, Azerbaijan is Turkey's main oil supplier. Turkey has denied reports that it has sent 4,000 Syrians to fight on behalf of the Azeri army, but Turkish President Recep Erdogan's moves here merit close attention.

Russia is the dominant player in the region. But although it sells weapons to both Azerbaijan and Armenia, Moscow keeps troops garrisoned in Armenia and is, technically, treaty-bound to defend the country. If things escalate further, Vladimir Putin will have to decide whether to honor that obligation. Doing so could quickly put Ankara and Moscow on opposite sides of another nasty war (they already back different sides of the civil war in Libya.)

Finally, Iran also as a stake. It borders both countries, and Azeris are Iran's largest ethnic minority. Although Tehran has traditionally backed Yerevan, and often bickers with Baku over energy and security in the Caspian Sea, the Iranians offered to mediate when the latest tensions began two months ago. Will they try again now?

On September 23, GZERO Media — in partnership with Microsoft and Eurasia Group — gathered global experts to discuss global recovery from the coronavirus pandemic in a livestream panel. Our panel for the discussion Crisis Response & Recovery: Reimagining while Rebuilding, included:

  • Brad Smith, President, Microsoft
  • Ian Bremmer, President and Founder, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media
  • Jeh Johnson, Partner, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP and former Secretary of Homeland Security.
  • John Frank, Vice President, UN Affairs at Microsoft
  • Susan Glasser, staff writer and Washington columnist, The New Yorker (moderator)

Special appearances by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde, and comedian/host Trevor Noah.

More Show less

62: In a referendum over the weekend, nearly 62 percent of Swiss voters said they wanted to preserve freedom of movement between the European Union and Switzerland, which is not a member of the EU. The right-wing Swiss People's Party had proposed imposing migration quotas at the border, saying that the current frontier is basically a... (okay, they didn't actually say it's a "Swiss cheese" but still).

More Show less
UNGA banner

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's Newsletter: Signal

Panel: How will the world recover from COVID-19?

UNGA Livestream