Ten Quick Takeaways from Yesterday's Israeli Election Results

  • National Newswatch

1. Political stasis: Despite all the talk of this Israeli election marking a revolutionary change, the results show a great degree of political stasis. The Right-wing parties held their own when compared to the election results of 2009 and 2013. The Ultra-Orthodox parties kept their share of the vote. Centrist parties focused on economic change once again did very well (21 seats in Knesset), with Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid party and Moshe Kachlon's new Kulanu party each grabbing about half of these votes. The political Left (the Zionist Union and Meretz) gained little. The Joint Arab list was the exception, increasing Israeli Arab representation in the Knesset by three seats, though the faction is likely to splinter in the weeks ahead.2. Political map: Likud won one quarter of all votes (equivalent to about one million out of the four million Israelis who actually voted) and one quarter of the seats in Knesset, and the Centre-Right bloc (namely, the voters of Bayit Yehudi, Yisrael Beytenu, Shas, and United Torah Judaism) together won another quarter of the country's votes. By adding one of the Centrist economic parties (probably Kulanu), Netanyahu has a relatively clear path to forming the next government.3. National unity: President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, has stated that he would seek the establishment of a national unity government in which both Likud and the Zionist Union would serve. However, Prime Minister Netanyahu repeatedly ruled out such a “unity” coalition throughout the campaign, but that was before the election. Herzog wants to prove himself in a senior ministerial position, but at least half his parliamentary faction prefers to sit in opposition rather than prop up Netanyahu (as the Labor Party did in 2009, to its own detriment). In this regard, Kachlon could be the kingmaker. Will he be Rivlin's main ally in trying to wedge Netanyahu and Herzog into a unity coalition, even though that would dilute his own prominence and influence in the next government?4. Tenor of the campaign: It must be said: Israel is stronger, saner, more stable, and more unified than it looked over the past 100 days of campaigning. While the election campaign was shrill and bruising, that is the nature of campaigns. Most Israelis shrugged off the nasty sides of the campaign. The truth is that this was just another election in a complicated, fractious and basically unchanged Israeli political landscape.5. Security resonance: Netanyahu's message on security continues to resonate deeply with broad elements of Israeli society, and this explains his staying power despite widespread dismay with his personal conduct. Some would suggest this reflects the dominant, mainstream Israeli mindset ever since the Palestinian terrorist war against Israel of 2000-2004 (the second intifada), the rejection by Arafat and Abbas of sweeping Israeli peace proposals three times over the past 15 years, and the emergence of terrorist enclaves on Israel's northern and southern borders following Israel's unilateral withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza.6. Two-state solution: Netanyahu's statement late in the campaign that he no longer viewed the establishment of a Palestinian state as a realistic or possible path to peace in the near term garnered significant attention. Netanyahu made these hawkish comments in a last-ditch attempt to draw voters to Likud from the hard Right. Whatever one thinks of this position, context matters. Polls consistently show most Israelis want a two-state solution where a Palestinian state would be created through a comprehensive peace agreement with Israel. However, as a result of the track record of Palestinian leaders consistently rejecting good-faith Israeli offers for compromise and peace, polls also show most Israelis do not believe such a deal will come to fruition in the near term. Moreover, Israelis fear that under current circumstances Israeli withdrawals could lead to the establishment of a second “Hamastan” in the West Bank (or worse, an ISIS type regime) – not to a stable and peaceful reality This is the paradox that has gripped the Israeli mainstream for the last decade.7. Diplomatic challenges ahead: The Palestinians are planning to go to the International Criminal Court against Israel in a couple of weeks, and there are plans in the works for a joint Palestinian / EU resolution at the UN Security Council. The Obama administration seems poised to launch a peace gambit of its own, perhaps without coordination with Israel and against the Netanyahu government's wishes. In addition, the P5+1 seems close to a nuclear deal with Iran that Israel and the Gulf States strongly oppose. Despite clear differences in policy and accrued personal animosities, Netanyahu must urgently seek some avenues of dialogue and renewed cooperation with the Obama administration.8. Security challenges ahead: Israel's new government will have to work carefully and closely with Israel's military and security establishment to address a range of immediate issues, including: the deteriorating security situation in the West Bank, Hamas' ongoing re-armament and tunnel construction program; and Hezbollah's move from its main base in southern Lebanon into southern Syria, where it is fighting on behalf of the Assad regime and, at the same time, seeking to establish a new front for Iran-sponsored aggression against Israel.9. Fixing the “leaky roof”: The leaky roof has become an Israeli metaphor for all domestic ills – like the lack of affordable housing and too-high taxes. Perhaps the most apt election ad of the season (produced by Kachlon's Kulanu party) asked Israelis: “Just how many times have you received a call from Barack Obama, and how many times have you received a call from your bank manager?” This played off and countered a Likud ad, which attempted to promote Netanyahu as the only Israeli leader who had the guts and experience to take the tough calls from Obama. Likud failed to present its own social-economic program, because its polls showed it couldn't win on this issue, but the party must know that it is on this that the public expects significant movement. Likud needs to rebuild its reputation as a working class party, and therefore it will seek to embrace Kachlon and his promised economic reforms.10. Israeli democracy: Beyond all the above, Israelis and friends of Israel everywhere should remind themselves, with a touch of justifiable pride, of the vibrancy, energy, diversity, and stability of Israeli democracy, something proven once again this week. Alas, Israel remains the only liberal democracy in the Mideast; and it is a robust and impressive democracy, despite all its global and internal challenges. Even if the election result is somewhat gray and joyless, there is remarkable dignity in the way Israel maintains its core democratic institutions and processes.David M. Weinberg is director of the Israel Office of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs - Canada (CIJA).