Thursday, February 12, 2009

No shift to the right in the Israeli elections

The Israeli elections do not signal a shift to the right, as many commentators are saying. Actually, it is more a shift to the center of Israeli society, which disdains ideology but condones opportunism and corruption. There are criminal investigations against central figures in all three leading parties, with strong evidence in every case. The differences among the parties are not so deep.

Many of the so-called Zionist left gave their votes to the center party, Kadima, because they wished to block Likud’s Benyamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu himself was not interested in his party's getting too many votes because that would have meant that the most radical right-wingers on his list would have to be seated in the Knesset and this would have made his position vis a vis President Barack Obama even harder.

Avigdor Lieberman, one of the big winners in the election, got large support for his popular anti-Arab slogans. Lieberman is not considered by the radical right-wingers to be one of their own, because, among other things, he supports a soft form of the so-called “Two States Solution”, which radical right-wingers completely reject. His anti-Arab racism is not stronger than is ingrained in most Zionist parties, he is just more honest about it.

Therefore it is not surprising that various extreme right-wingers claim that they lost the election. One of them, Israel Harel, even complained in a radio interview that Meretz, one of the opposing (but still Zionist) parties, lost so much. For him this is an expression of Israeli society's becoming less ideological.

Because Netanyhu wants to improve his position towards the USA, it is also very likely that his coalition will include Kadima and the “Labor” party of the present popular “defense” minister, Ehud Barak. “Labor” declares that it wishes to stay in the opposition and reconstruct itself, but "Labor" has always found it hard to resist the temptation of seats in the government. Joining the opposition would mean, most likely, the end of Barak’s political career and he knows it. The other “Labor” leaders will probably give in to pressure to prevent a government with Lieberman, although they have already been in a government with him before now.

The most likely scenario is that Netanyahu will share the Prime Minister's office in rotation with the present foreign minister, Tzipi Livni from the Kadima party. This is the most logical solution, because Netanyahu is not likely to get the support of the most radical right-wingers unless he resists any move to make concessions in the West Bank to the Palestinians, and in Israel to Kadima and “Labor.” That means that the most radical right-wingers are not likely to recommend Netanyahu to President Shimon Peres as the one he should pick to build the next government.

Netanyahu has to keep to the old Israeli line of letting the so-called two-states option stay open while acting against it. Therefore he cannot have a government based on the right-wing radicals who want a clear statement against a Palestinian state in the government's platform.

The elections also make it clearer for Israeli supporters of peace that their only chance to influence the country's policies are in extra-parliamentary structures.


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