Israeli voters will have to make a choice between two political camps in the upcoming elections. However, U.S. President Barack Obama, whose administration has had problems with Tel Aviv, also has to make a decision that will change the future of Israel and the region. The Zionist Union, composed of the Labor Party and the Hatnuah party, are running neck and neck with Netanyahu's Likud party in the general elections scheduled for March 17.
The Zionist Union, led by Labor Party Chairman Isaac Herzog, advocates an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and a two-state solution to the conflict with Palestinians. Likud, led by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is committed to permanent Israeli control over the West Bank.
According to Avi Shlaim, an emeritus professor of international relations at Oxford University, ending the occupation is a long-term strategic goal for the Zionist Union. However, this goal is not aimed at promoting justice for Palestinians.
"The guiding consideration behind this vision is not to dispense justice to the Palestinians, but to preserve the democratic and Jewish character of the state of Israel."
Speaking to Daily Sabah, Shlaim said that the Zionist Union offers a clear alternative to a policy that has not only failed to bring security, but is also eroding the foundations of Israeli democracy and turning the country into an international pariah.
"Israeli generals speak about 'mowing the lawn' in Gaza. This grim metaphor exposes the moral bankruptcy of Israel's policy of relying exclusively on brute military force in dealing with what is essentially a political, and now sadly, a humanitarian problem. It implies doing something mechanically and systematically and without any end in sight. It also suggests that the next assault on the hapless inmates of the Israeli-made prison is just a matter of time," he said.
The U.S., Israel's primary global partner and a broker in peace talks, believes that there is an urgent need to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, Shlaim said that Netanyahu is doing everything in his power to prevent the emergence of a viable Palestinian state.
"Netanyahu simply does not believe in negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. During his first year as [U.S.] secretary of state, John Kerry made no less than 11 trips to the region in an effort to promote a negotiated settlement. Netanyahu's intransigence turned this valiant effort into an exercise in futility. Netanyahu regards peace talks as an American interest, not an Israeli one. He agreed to the American-sponsored talks in order to ensure their failure without incurring the blame," he said.
Netanyahu's resistance toward peace talks has brought the Obama administration and the Zionist Union closer. However, this is not the only reason why the Obama administration may support the Zionist Union. On Netanyahu's recent, highly controversial visit to the U.S., Shlaim said: "Netanyahu got himself invited by the Republican speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives to launch an open attack in a joint session of Congress on President Obama's policy of negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program. … Obama thus has every reason and every justification for throwing his weight behind the Zionist Union in the run-up to the elections on March 17. All American officials who have dealt with Netanyahu, from the president down, know that there is zero prospect of a peace deal as long as he stays in power. Regime change in Jerusalem is a precondition for progress on the Israel-Palestine peace front, and it is in Obama's power, as Israel's primary global partner, to help bring it about," Shlaim said.