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Netanyahu's Campaign Puts Him On The Path To Confrontation

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center) speaks to  supporters at his election headquarters on Tuesday in Tel Aviv. He now appears headed for a fourth term in office, but his campaign pledges could lead to increased friction with the Palestinians, the Obama administration and the international community.

During his campaign, Benjamin Netanyahu aggressively opposed the negotiations on Iran's nuclear program, ruled out a Palestinian state on his watch, and argued that Israel would be best served by a government of the right.

If Netanyahu now cobbles together the coalition government he wants, his fourth term as Israel's prime minister could put him on an increasingly confrontational path with the Palestinians, the Obama administration and the international community.

Netanyahu, who first served as Israel's prime minister in 1996, has always been a blunt, brusque politician. He relentlessly stresses security threats Israel faces and argues that the current harsh realities of the Middle East do not allow for warm and fuzzy talk about an idealized future.

This stance has served Netanyahu well throughout his career, but he pushed even harder than usual in the run-up to Israel's hard-edged election on Tuesday.

If he follows through on his campaign pledges, he could risk isolating himself and Israel on several key issues. Here's a look:

Iran's Nuclear Program: Netanyahu will continue to lead the opposition to nuclear negotiations between Iran and six world powers, but his options are relatively limited. He has the solid backing of U.S. Republicans but does not otherwise have much international support.

"This is a bad deal. A very bad deal. We're better off without it," Netanyahu said in his March 3 speech to the U.S. Congress.

But if no agreement is reached, Iran could proceed with its nuclear program. Netanyahu has hinted at possible Israeli military action, but couldn't be guaranteed support from the U.S. or anyone else.

The Israeli leader could potentially face the choice of taking unilateral military action that most analysts say would inflict only limited, temporary damage to Iran's program.

Relations With The U.S.: Netanyahu's sharp criticism of Obama in his speech to Congress turned Israel, which is usually a consensus issue, into a divisive one.

Some Democrats boycotted his speech. The poor relationship with President Obama may now be beyond repair. Critics in the U.S. and in Israel have accused Netanyahu of meddling in American political affairs.

The close U.S.-Israel ties will survive the friction between the current leaders. But the next couple of years could be particularly rocky and Netanyahu's critics argue that he has harmed ties with Israel's most important ally.

Talks With The Palestinians: On the eve of the election, Netanyahu said no Palestinian state would emerge while he was prime minister and that he would continue expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

He has always been deeply skeptical of negotiations, though his position since 2009 has been that a Palestinian state could come into being under the right conditions.

Netanyahu has been prime minister three times since 1996 and there have been no major breakthroughs with the Palestinians during his tenure.

A statement from Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said Israel's election results show "the success of a campaign platform based on settlements, racism, apartheid and the denial of the fundamental human rights of the Palestinian people."

Israel faces growing pressure from Europe, where several countries have recognized a Palestinian state that does not formally exist.

Israel's Economy: Netanyahu claims credit for an economy that has performed well at the macro level in recent years, especially when compared to global downturn that hammered many countries.

But his critics say his policies have favored corporations and the wealthy and have been a major contributor to the country's growing income inequality. Among Israelis, economic issues have often taken precedence over security issues in recent years.

Netanyahu will need several partners to form his coalition and it could consist largely of parties on the right that share many of his views. But throughout his campaign, he doubled down on domestic and foreign policies that have won him elections — but also have proved divisive during his time in office.

Greg Myre is the international editor of and the author of This Burning Land on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Follow him @gregmyre1.

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