Except for the votes of some soldiers and prisoners, the Israeli election results are in – a resounding rebuke for Prime Minister Netanyahu and a boost for the Center-Left of the political spectrum. Netanyahu is likely to remain as prime minister with a center leaning coalition rather than his recent right leaning government. But his government’s position towards the Palestinians is unlikely to change. One result will be President Obama’s decision to avoid the whole Israeli-Palestinian quagmire, hopeless in the face of Netanyahu’s intransigence.
(www.Haaretz.com, January 23, 2013)
So the electorate split 60-60, left and right.
Netanyahu’s party, Likud-Beteinu, even absent the indicted Avigdor Lieberman, won the most seats — 31. But that’s 11 fewer seats than he won in the last election. David Remnick, writing in The New Yorker, quotes the Israeli journalist Bradley Burston, “‘King Bibi’ has managed to plummet to victory in a technical triumph that has every appearance of a debacle.”
The surprise winner was Yair Lapid, who resigned as a TV talk show host to form a new political party, Yesh Atid (There Is a Future), in January 2012. He managed to win 19 seats, from nowhere. (Lapid’s father, Yosef Lapid, headed the Shinui Party in the 2003 elections and won 15 seats.)
Nonetheless, President Peres will probably call on Netanyahu to put together a coalition government that can muster at least 61 seats in the Knesset.
It won’t be all that easy. Netanyahu is reluctant to head a narrow, far right government for fear that he could then lose a future confidence vote. Moreover, the religious parties, his natural allies, are no longer joined at the hip to Netanyahu. Shas, under its new leadership, even aims to bring the Prime Minister down. So, with the right uncertain Netanyahu will likely seek to form a winning coalition with Lapid.
Lapid, however, has said that he will not be a passive member of any coalition but wants action on the Palestinians. But when he is asked just what “action” he has in mind, things get less clear. On his Facebook page, he has written, “What I want is not a ‘new Middle East.’ But to be rid of them and put a tall fence between us and them.”
Complicated issues divide the parties. One of the most important is the draft exemption for Orthodox seminary students. Legally, the exemption expired last August when Israel’s High Court found the “Tal Law” unconstitutional. Nothing has yet replaced it. Lapid has refused to join a government that does not require every citizen to do national service. (But interestingly, Israel’s Arab citizens – some 20 percent of the population – do not, along with the Orthodox, serve in the military in any great numbers either.) Lapid also wants a national education curriculum, something anathema to the Orthodox.
Naftali Bennet, founder of the Jewish Home Party (Hebayit Hayehudi), finished with a disappointing 11 seats. He’s a natural ally of the Prime Minister. But it is unlikely Lapid would join a coalition that included Bennett, the religious nationalist. Lapid favors a more secular Israel.
Netanyahu won’t have an easy time fashioning a stable coalition that solidly controls more than 60 seats. But he will put together something. That coalition will be less stable, less right wing and less nationalist. It will be less likely to bomb Iran and no more likely to make a deal with the Palestinians. It will be no more likely to warm up to President Obama.
This presents a dilemma for Obama. Should he push Israel to make a deal with the Palestinians? Or should he wash his hands of the whole unsavory mess and walk away? There is, after all, a lot else on his plate. Moreover, he promised in his inauguration speech to focus on his domestic agenda, giving short shrift to foreign policy. Given the slim odds of moving the “peace process” forward, Israel is likely to be left off of the President’s short-term agenda.