The Israeli electoral system is broken. The candidate who finished second won this week’s poll. Surely that is evidence enough. Tzipi Livni’s Kadima party squeezed past Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud party by 28 seats to 27, both falling far short of the 61 needed for a majority. But, and it is a big but, the right-wing parties took 65 seats to the 55 of the centre-left, leaving the Likud leader in prime position to form a coalition.
The atmosphere surrounding the Israeli election was in stark contrast to the recent presidential elections as Israelis effectively said “no, we can’t” to the peace process; Netanyahu is “unwilling, on paper at least, to let Palestinians have anything more in the way of a state than a hollowed out Swiss cheese of feebly linked cantons,” wrote The Economist.
Behind the scenes the horsetrading is underway and the other parties will try and extort the highest possible price for their support. The settlers are rattling their sabres. The British media has been focusing on the rise of Avigdor Lieberman, whose Yisrael Beytenu surged to third place in the polls, even finishing ahead of Labour. Lieberman has been referred to many times as the “kingmaker” as his party’s 15 seats will be crucial to the forming of a coalition. His policy of demanding that Arab-Israelis take an oath of allegiance to Israel has grabbed many headlines in the UK. Jonathan Freedland, a lead comment writer for The Guardian who is known for his pro-Israeli stance at a paper which is often critical of Israel, wrote that:
It is a truly shocking idea. I asked several Israel Beytenu luminaries if they could name a single democracy anywhere that had removed citizenship from those who already had it. I asked what they would make of demanding that, say, British Jews, swear an oath of loyalty to Britain as a Christian country on pain of losing their right to vote. I got no good answers.
A good point, well made I think. The fact that a party espousing such policies could be so successful in the nationwide poll has been seen as the exemplification of Israel’s shift to the right and has instilled foreboding in many Israeli-Arabs already reeling from attempts to ban Israeli-Arab parties from taking part in the election. Neither Likud nor Kadima have opposed Lieberman’s idea.
In a piece in The Washington Post, Hanan Porat a rabbi who is reported to have led efforts to build settlements in the West Bank said:
“The outcome of the election is that the way of the left has failed. The public has realized it was leading us to destruction… The Qassam rockets that have been falling are more convincing than all the speeches about peace.”
The left? All the speeches about peace? Mr Porat must have been referring to a different election. I would be interested to know how many references to peace Livni made in the build-up to this election. While the war in Gaza may actually have increased Kadima’s performance at the polls, it is a true testament to the times that the supposed pro-peace lobby could have embarked upon such an operation.
The truth is that the recent war in Gaza could only ever have resulted in loss for Israel – its goal of eliminating Hamas was and is not achievable without re-occupying Gaza. As soon as the first Qassam rocket was fired into Israel after the offensive had ended, Israel had lost. There is no reason to believe that a Government led by Netanyahu will be any better, but plenty to believe it will be substantially worse.
If there is one upside, it may be that Mr Obama is forced to re-appraise the US’s relationship with Israel. Mr Obama should not fear being openly critical of the policies of Lieberman and the far-right. His silence up until this point in the election has been deafening.
And, as for the Israeli electoral system, as long as the extreme wings hold a choke hold over the centre and meaningful concessions then Israel will remain as toothless a partner in peace as its Palestinian counterpart(s).
Monty is the MediaShack correspondent in the UK.
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