Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

  • Israel/Palestine and the Politics of a Two-State Solution
  • When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Israeli Election: A Preview

Israel goes to the polls on January 22. Everyone has already conceded that Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu will be heading the next government. His Likud Beitenu (Union: Our Home) party is forecast to receive between 34 and 38 seats out of 120 in the Knesset. Next largest will be the centrist Labor Party with 16 to 18 seats--up from 13 in 2009. Third will be the Jewish Home (haBeit haYehudi) party with 13-14 seats- (Hebrew link) --this will be a record for the old National Religious Party, which normally received anywhere from four to ten seats in each election since the 1950s. For another forecast in English see here. The Kadima party, founded by Ariel Sharon as a splinted from the Likud in November 2005, is likely to only receive two seats despite being the largest party after the 2009 election with 28 seats. Most of its voters are said to be either returning to the Likud after seven years, returning to Labor after three years, or going to former Kadima leader Tzipi Livni's haTnua (the Movement) party that is projected to receive seven seats. Overall the Right is projected to receive about 53 seats and the Center-Left about ten seats less than that. Daniel Levy, an analyst affiliated with a number of European and American think tanks as their resident Israel expert, has a very good article organized around the concept of Israel's "four tribes" or electoral blocs.

There are many explanations for this move to the right.  But the important thing is the effect that it will have on the policy of the Israeli government. Netanyahu is likely to form another rightist coalition with one of the Center parties in the coalition, such as Yesh Atid (There is a Future), as a legitimizing party in the small role that Labor has periodically filled (after 2001, after 2009 etc.) An attempt to form a Center bloc with Yesh Atid, Labor, and haTnua blew up last week when Tzipi Livni issued a statement about a meeting that the three party leaders held and then the other two contradicted her.  This will make it easy for Netanyahu to play the three parties off against one another after the election. The most interesting figure in this election cycle has been Naftali Bennett, leader of the Jewish Home party, portrayed in this New Yorker article by David Remnick.  Here is an article that ran on Sunday January 20--two days before the election--in The Times of Israel on the Likud's post-election coalition options.
Let's examine the previous government coalitions that have made peace agreements with the Arabs since 1974. In 1974 Golda Meir's coalition of the Labor Party, the National Religious Party, and a smaller ultra-Orthodox party concluded separation-of-forces agreements with Egypt and Syria after the Yom Kippur War. Her motivation was largely to get Israeli prisoners-of-war back from the Arabs and to keep Washington happy. In 1975 Yitzhak Rabin's coalition of the Labor Party, the NRP, and the Citizen's Rights Movement concluded the Sinai II agreement giving up the Mitla and Giddi Passes in the western Sinai. His major motivation was bribery from Washington in the terms of American military aid. In 1979 Menahem Begin's coalition of the Likud, the NRP, and the Democratic Movement for Change gave up the Sinai in exchange for peace with Egypt. His motivation was mainly to give Israel a free hand to colonize the West Bank with settlers. In 1993 a Rabin-led coalition of Labor, Meretz, and the ultra-Orthodox Shas party negotiated the Oslo accords with the PLO. Israel withdrew from major parts of the West Bank and Gaza while continuing to settle the West Bank. The motivation was an attempt to take care of the PLO's weakness after the Gulf War to make peace. Rabin negotiated a peace treaty with Jordan in 1994. Rabin was then assassinated by a right-wing religious fanatic in November 1995. Attempts by Shimon Peres to make peace with Syria failed. In May 1999 Ehud Barak was elected prime minister and formed a very wide coalition government with many of the same parties from Netanyahu's first government. These parties then left as soon as he left to negotiate peace at Camp David with Yasir Arafat. He was left with a rump Labor-Meretz minority coalition.  

The common feature of these coalitions is that a Center-Left coalition can make limited agreements with the Arabs but not a final peace agreement (except for with Jordan without the West Bank). The Likud can make a final peace agreement but only with Arab states and does not want one with Syria. The Likud is also more nationalist and settler-based today than it was when Begin made peace with Egypt in 1979.  Labor and haTnua combined will have fewer seats after the election than Labor had after the 1999 election. Yesh Atid appears to have no real foreign policy position. Conclusion: don't expect peace from an Israeli government after the election. I could also make the same argument from the Arab side.

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