Now for Netanyahu the Statesman, Please

Politician, prime minister...statesman?

Photographer: MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gambled that if he could stoke enough fear among voters, he could be re-elected one more time -- and he won. Now he needs to offer voters something more.

Israelis have legitimate concerns about their national security, but Netanyahu was as subtle as a bulldozer in the final stages of the campaign. He described a high turnout for Israel's 20 percent Arab minority as a threat; abandoned even lip service to the two-state solution; and jeopardized decades of bipartisan support for Israel in the U.S. by taking sides with Republicans in their efforts to undermine a Democratic president's nuclear negotiations with Iran.

Netanyahu still needs to assemble a coalition. Yet he is likely to emerge as the prime minister of the next government, and whatever shape that takes, there are some things it is already clear he should do.

QuickTake Two-State Solution

The first is to explain, given his rejection of a two-state solution for Israel and its Palestinian occupied territories, what exactly his plan is. It's not as if there is hope for achieving a peace deal any time in the near future -- in that sense his statement was almost refreshingly frank -- but there needs to be some kind of vision for the peaceful resolution of the Palestinian question. Without that, an escalation of violence is inevitable. And Israel and the Palestinians have seen more than enough war.

Abandoning support for the only peace plan with international support would also deepen Israel's international isolation and may encourage more European and other nations to simply recognize Palestine as a state, rather than support the negotiating process.

Netanyahu must also reach out to Israel's Arab citizens. Their enthusiastic participation in the democratic process is perhaps the most positive outcome of this election. Arab voters in Israel are not the fifth-column threat Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman described. No matter what their beliefs or politics, they are citizens -- and crucial to Israel's identity as a democracy.

Finally, Netanyahu needs to repair broken ties with the U.S. He may calculate that President Barack Obama, with whom he shares a sincere mutual dislike, will be out of office in less than two years. Yet even a year can be a long time in such an unstable region. Nor is there any guarantee the next U.S. president will see eye-to-eye with Netanyahu on how to handle either Iran's nuclear program or the Palestinian question.

Just a few weeks ago, polls showed that economic concerns were driving this campaign. Issues such as wage stagnation and rising housing costs will (and should) demand Netanyahu's attention. At the same time, his victory shows that in Israel security concerns remain paramount -- both as a political issue and on the merits. Netanyahu has, not for the first time, demonstrated his gifts as a politician. Now he must call on those talents to win support among all Israelis for a more hopeful vision of their nation's future.

To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net.