Casting of votes in Israel (photo: Reuters)

Israel and Its Conflict with the Palestinians
Slight Movement in the Stagnation

When it comes to the Israeli government's future approach to the conflict with the Palestinians, the outcome of the Knesset elections in Israel is less than encouraging. A commentary by Moshe Zuckermann

Elections in Israel have produced two major surprises: The Likud-Beitunu alliance may well have won. But it is already clear that Prime Minister Netanyahu will have difficulty forming a coalition that is fit to govern and that meets his exacting ideological criteria. – as well as one that can hold out through an entire term of office.

That the joint electoral list only won 31 seats came as something of a surprise, and could not have been predicted a week ago.

But an even bigger surprise was the overwhelming election success of Yair Lapid and his party "Yesh Atid" (There is a Future), which won 18 to 19 seats. This puts the political newcomer, who is a former television presenter and journalist, at the helm of the second-largest party in the next legislative period.

A sense of stalemate

Yair Lapid in Tel Aviv after his success in the elections (photo: AP)
Centrist party Yesh Atid pulled off the biggest surprise of the night and could force Netanyahu into concessions. This puts the political newcomer, party head Yair Lapid, who is a former television presenter and journalist, at the helm of the second-largest party in the next legislative period. Pictured: Yesh Atid supporters celebrating incoming election results

​​The Labour Party, under the leadership of Shelly Yachimovich, the ultra-orthodox Shas party, the rightwing religious nationalist party led by Neftali Bennett "Habayit Hayehudi" (The Jewish Home) – all of which attained a respectable showing in the poll, and the rather disappointing performance of Tzipi Livni's "Hatnua" (The Movement), also all convey the sense of a stalemate.

It came as no surprise then that shortly after preliminary election results were made known, Netanyahu pledged to form "as broad a government as possible".

Shas Party leader Aryeh Deri even called for the formation of a national grand coalition. But at present, there is no telling how that might work. After all, Yair Lapid must be considered as a major coalition partner; he also wants to participate in the next government, and in a key position.

But how will he deliver on his populist campaign pledge to reform military service laws that grant privileges to ultra-Orthodox Jewish seminary students, when this is viewed as an unacceptable breach of taboo by Orthodox parties, the "natural allies" of Netanyahu? How can such differences be reconciled?

Naftali Bennett's crude ideology

If, on the other hand, negotiations should yield a coalition that does not include the Orthodox parties – which would be a first in Israeli parliamentary practice – how will consensus be reached in view of Tzipi Livni's aspirations for progress in peace talks with the Palestinians and Naftali Bennett's crude, settler-oriented ideology (which is essentially that of Netanyahu)?

Naftali Bennett (photo: AP)
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​​If Shelly Yachimovich can be persuaded to join a grand coalition; how can her social-democratic model aimed at attaining greater social equality be reconciled in government with Netanyahu's radical capitalist neo-liberalism?

And if negotiations cannot consolidate a broad coalition, with a balance of power consisting of 62 seats for the right wing and 58 for the centre-left bloc, prospects for the next government's survival would appear dim.

Prudently sidestepping the big issue

One thing is already clear of course: When it comes to the Israeli government's future approach to the conflict with the Palestinians, let alone attempts to find a solution, the outcome of these elections is less than encouraging.

It is not surprising, after all this is the very issue prudently sidestepped in the election campaigns of the parties attaining the best results in this poll. Those who used the issue to win support – "Meretz", the Communists, but also Livni's "Hatnua", found themselves to be further marginalized by voters.

Despite lip service paid to the matter by Netanyahu as the outgoing legislature convened, an issue that was permanently undermined throughout the course of the period, this is the approach that is likely to endure structurally in the coming legislative period: No peace with the Palestinians, and only slight movement in the stagnation that has meanwhile coalesced into an ideology.

Moshe Zuckermann

© Tageszeitung / 2013

Translated from the German by Nina Coon editor: Lewis Gropp

Moshe Zuckermann is Professor of History and Philosophy at the University of Tel Aviv. His latest book, published by Laika, is titled "Wider den Zeitgeist: Aufsätze und Gespräche über Juden, Deutsche, den Nahost-Konflikt und Antisemitismus" (Against the Zeitgeist: Essays and Conversations on Jews, Germans, the Middle East Conflict and Antisemitism).

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