By Larry Gordon
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not win the resounding victory that he thought he would in Tuesday’s elections in Israel. While Netanyahu will most likely be the next prime minister of Israel, what we saw the other day was the beginning of a change in the face of politics in Israel.
The big winners in the election were Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett. Someday in the not so distant future, one or perhaps both of them may be the prime minister of Israel. The supposed pro-peace leftists in Israel are trying to spin this week’s election as an endorsement of their political direction, but that is a distortion of the reality.
News reports over the last couple of days have been saying that the left and right in Israel were tied or would split the vote down the middle, but that is hardly even technically so. If the Knesset is really tied at 60–60, that will include 12 Arab members of the Knesset that have never been and will never be part of any governing coalition in Israel.
As for the new power brokers in Israel, the early numbers say that Yair Lapid and his Yesh Atid will end up as the second-largest party in the Knesset, with 19 seats. Naftali Bennett and HaBayit HaYehudi will score 11 seats in the next Knesset. Netanyahu can easily sculpt a relatively stable, strong, and workable coalition, but it will require some of his natural partners to soften and perhaps even compromise on some of their election campaign positions.
Bibi needs to win over Lapid and his party. On social issues, Lapid might be more compatible with Tzipi Livni’s HaTnuah party or with Labor, but they have great differences with him on key issues regarding how to go forward on the Palestinians.
I would like to see a coalition that is composed of Likud, Yesh Atid, HaBayit, Shas, and UTJ. This would amount to a coalition of about 80 seats—a true supermajority. The problem here is that the differences over whether chareidim should be subjected to a military draft or some kind of alternative national service may be irreconcilable. It will take a few weeks, but it is vital to Israel’s future and her stand on whatever pressure she will face from the Obama administration on the peace process to present a united and broad political front and consensus.
So by splitting the way they did, what type of message was the Israeli electorate sending to their leaders? I don’t think the message was that much different from what American voters were communicating to Barack Obama when they reelected him but made sure that the House of Representatives remained overwhelmingly in Republican control.
Voters apparently want leaders to go easy on their ideology and seek out compromise and consensus. Here in the U.S. so far—and it is only a few days after his inauguration—we seem to be in for a full onslaught of Obama ideology going forward. The issue over the next few weeks will largely be whether Mr. Obama gets it and whether he can be a true American leader or not.
Surprisingly, in Israel voters were sending a similar message. Yes, peace is important to the average Israeli and they want leaders that will be firm and resolute with their avowed enemies that surround them. But Israel is also a normal and progressive society that wants to see progress on social issues. Taxes are already very high in Israel, so what needs to be done more than anything else is to rework budgetary considerations so as to reduce some of the pressure that all too many segments of society there lives with.
Unfortunately, from our vantage point, a lot of that pressure under a consensus coalition will be shifted onto the ultra-Orthodox sector. Leaders like the newly elected Lapid seem to be way too focused on chareidi society, but he has also surrounded himself with partners like his number-two party member, Rabbi Dov Piron, and number 19 on the list, Rabbi Dov Lipman of Bet Shemesh.
This week things seem rather unclear, especially as the left will try to court and cut deals with Lapid, Shas, and the other religious parties in order to put together what is being described as a center-left coalition. They may be dreaming about that pie-in-the sky possibility, but at the end of the day Israelis really don’t want to be led by the flimsy Livni or the inexperienced Yachomovich of Labor. Now is not the time for novice leadership.
Israel may be led by the same Bibi Netanyahu, but the next few years are vital as the baton of leadership will be handed to new figures like Lapid and Bennett, both of whom are formidable and capable men with the confidence of the electorate to move the country forward on all the issues at hand.
For now, Israelis need Netanyahu to get them through the next few Obama years and the president’s unpredictable liberalism and his advocacy that Israel surrender land and divide Jerusalem.
I saw a headline the other day that said Netanyahu is no longer the king of Israel. That may be so somewhere down the line—but not just yet. v
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