With Israel’s national elections now concluded and the air beginning to clear, we can ponder where Israel is going next. The Israeli turnout proved to be significant. Far from disinterested (as some predicted), the numbers indicate that the public is not only paying attention but remains concerned about what the politicians have in mind. In the US national election, 57% responded while in Israel 66 percent of the population voted. Their message to the government was clear: Change.
While Prime Minister Netanyahu survived the election, he was still the loser. Last year Time magazine published an edition that declared Netanyahu to be the “king of Israel,” such is clearly no longer so. The electorate told him they wanted changed within the government and how he got things accomplished. Equally significant was the loss of Tzipi Livni’s Party. While she vowed not to get out of politics, she is no longer seems as a significant challenge to the Prime Minister’s office. The bottom line iss that the election signaled a clear shift to the right.
Israeli politics is significantly different from the American scene with only two parties. The outcome of our national elections declares one group to be the dominant force for the next four years. Obviously, Obama’s victory knocked the wind out of the Republican party’s sails and Washington now has a different tone. Not so in Israel. With a number of political parties, the winner must pull together a coalition. If one group doesn’t like the way decisions are being made, they can drop out without toppling the government. Prime Minister Netanyahu is now in the process of trying to pull together an agreement either with Lapid or the Labor party. What he does in the future will be significantly affected by how these agreements are worked out. At this point, it is too early to tell.
While it did not create a great ripple in the United States, information was leaked in Israel that President Obama and the new Secretary of Defense John Kerry are planning trips to Israel in the next few months with Obama’s trip scheduled for March 20. After the tensions of last summer, the unfolding Arab spring, and the fact that Romney was a strong favorite by the Israeli electorate, the new two leaders have much to talk about. However, in the entire region expectations are not high for much change.
No one is predicting that President Obama can bring Israel and the Palestinian Authority to the bargaining table. There is an expectation that the United States will soon release $200 million to the nearly bankrupt Palestinian Authority. In addition, there is talk of Israel postponing further settlement construction in the West Bank in exchange for a Palestinian cancellation of claims against Israel in the International Criminal Court. Obviously many alternatives could be on the table.
However, no believes the White House will throw its weight behind the necessary confrontations to produce change. At this time President Mahmoud Abbas is struggling to survive a financial crisis while being further cornered because he is a secular moderate in an Arab world that is increasingly more religiously radical. Abbas dug his own hole when he went to the United Nations to seek an international status for the PA. Consequently, Israel stopped funneling moneys to the PA as they had done previously.
What’s going to happen? Probably not much until after March 20.