Peace Is All But Crucial

Picture Credit: ynet[1]

By: Jacob Pester

The elections to the 19th Knesset (The Israeli Parliament) has been seen by many as a turning point in Israeli politics that will affect many issues that Israeli society, as well as International forces, see as crucial to the interests of the state. The Israeli-Palestinian peace process and social inequality are the main points of interest with regards to domestic and foreign policy making seen within the state and outside of it as needing to be addressed. The stagnation of the peace process for over a decade now as well as the social upheaval over housing prices have worried many as to the stability of Israeli society and its political system. Yet, many other issues played a role in these elections and should not be neglected as irrelevant; they include environmental protection, recruitment among Ultra-Orthodox Jews, education, and political reform. The composition of a future coalition government led by Halikud-Beiteinu and its policy direction will likely be determined by electoral trends and popular demands.

Our first step in understanding the outcome of these general elections on domestic and foreign policy is to analyze the electoral results from a statistical point of view. Following so, it will be important to highlight the main trends in electoral shifts and what the ruling coalition may look like based on these electoral shifts. Our main goal in analyzing electoral shifts and coalition possibilities will be to understand how these elections will affect policy direction more broadly in the Israeli political system. Ultimately, by analyzing the probable policy direction of a new government we will be able to understand more clearly where this leaves the prime concern of the international community and ours as international observers; the peace process.

Comparing this past election with that of 2009 leaves us with many important conclusions.  First, the Center-Right party, Kadima, fell from 28 seats to just 2 in the 162 seat Knesset[2]. This decline is strongly due to the fragmentation of the party into two separate parties, Hatnua and Kadima, and the arrival of a centrist competitor in Yesh-Atid.  Secondly, the merged Likud-Beiteinu (formally Halikud and Yisrael-Beiteinu) went from a combined 42 seats to just 31[3]. This is somewhat affected by the strengthening of the right-religious party, Habayit-Hayehudi, which moved from a combined 7 seats to 12[4]. The decline of seats held by Likud-Beiteinu is also partly due to the perceived failed policies of the incumbent ruling party and its leader Benjamin Netanyahu.  Another notable transition in the Knesset is the slight increase of the leftist party, Meretz, from 3 to 6 seats; however, this increase will most likely mean little to the construction of a new governing coalition[5].

The first thing that can be asserted from these electoral transitions is the dissatisfaction many people in Israel have with the leadership of the Likud and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; yet, such dissatisfaction was not sufficient to overthrow him or the party as the probable coalition leaders/president. Furthermore, this dissatisfaction, aside from the hopes of international observes, is not based on the lack of progress in the peace process. Instead, this dissatisfaction is based on social indicators such as increases in the price of living and economic and social inequality. Second, there is an unprecedented growth in two distinct parties, one right-nationalist (Habayit-Hayehudi) and the second centrist (Yesh-Atid). The increases in these two parties is strongly related to the decrease in power of the two main parties, the Likud and Kadima, and are also indicators of a common need for social and economic reform, which represents the foundations of each of the rising parties’ political platforms[6]. This domestic need for reform is represented stronger than anywhere else in the rise of Yesh-Atid, a party not even in existence four years ago, but now the second strongest political entity in the Knesset.

Despite the changes in power between the traditional parties and the newcomers, policy differences will only be addressed at the coalition level, which will leave room for input by both. There are various options for a coalition government led by Likud-Beiteinu. Analyzing these options will give us a better picture of what to expect with regard to the peace process. The easiest coalition to form from the ruling party’s viewpoint would be one of the rightist-religious parties. These include Halikud-Beiteinu, Shas, Yahadut-Hatorah, and Habayit-Hayehudi[7]. Yet, although this coalition is ideologically unified, it will pose serious problems to economic and social reform due to the unwillingness of the ultra-orthodox parties and their communities to accept reforms that affect them in any negative manner. This is especially true with regard to the reforms on conscription of religious students into the military and civil service, which is strongly opposed by both Shas and Yahadut-Hatorah.

The second coalition option is that of a center-right configuration which would include; Halikud-Beiteinu, Yesh-Atid, Habayit-Hayehudi, Hatnua and even Kadima. With 68-71 seats this coalition would be strong in numbers. The combined economic and social identity of these parties would be unified, which would enable the coalition to endeavor into vast reforms that would be highly accepted by the populace[8]. Yet, the two main coalition partners, Yesh-Atid and Habayit-Hayehudi, have serious differences between them. These differences are focused on the peace process, with Yesh-Atid promoting a resumption of peace talks on the two state solution track and Habayit-Hayehudi vying for the desolation of the two state solution based on current realities[9].  

Among the two coalition possibilities the most probable one is that of a center-right coalition. The main reasons for its probability are the pressing needs for economic and social reform as well as conscription reform. Such a coalitional move from the ultra-right to the right-centrist is not so much a move towards the center of the ideological spectrum as it is a move inward highlighting the primacy of domestic over international interests[10]. Although such a coalition would seem more positive towards peace initiatives, it would find it hard to operate in any consolidated manner on the subject. The Likud-Beiteinu has shown its lack of interest in the peace process and Habayit-Hayehudi flat out rejects the possibility of a two state solution. Therefore, the push for the resumption of the peace process would be left to Yesh-Atid. Yet, despite Yesh-Atid’s desire to resume the peace process and its positioning of such a need as prerequisite to it joining a coalition government, there seems little proof that such action will bring about meaningful alterations to the peace process[11]. Yesh-Atid has placed much greater importance on economic and social reform in their platform, which may allow them to only half-heartedly promote the resumption of peace talks[12].

What must be drawn from these elections is that a move to the left or the promotion of left-centrist parties interested in the resumption of the peace process hasn’t truly accord. Rather, what should be understood from these elections is that Israeli society is strongly divided on all but one issue, the need for economic and social reform. Yet, the one positive with regard to the peace process that can be taken from this move towards the center by the Israeli electorate is their ability to promote moderate political parties rather than fringe ideologies. We will most probably not see a change in this administration; however, we may see, based on how Yesh-Atid functions in the new government, a change in the long run. This change will promote stronger moderation in the political process, which may allow for those sincerely devoted to the peace process to slowly creep back into control of the government and reestablish their ability and willingness to focus in a decisive manner on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  What will happen in the meantime is hard to know but conflict will most likely continue as the Palestinians push ever harder for full recognition due to the staled state of the peace process.

 

Jacob Pester is a Master of International Affairs candidate at the Penn State School of International Affairs. He received a Bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University focusing on Middle Eastern affairs.  As a researcher on Middle Eastern affairs he has written various articles dealing with politics and society in Israel and the region as a whole. He is fluent in Hebrew and knowledgeable in Arabic, and he has held various positions dealing with governmental policy and international diplomacy.


[1] http://www.ynet.com

[2] Staff, “Elections to the 19th Knesset”, Israeli Institute for Democracy, http://www.idi.org.il/ (January 2013).

[3] Staff, “Elections to the 18th Knesset”, Israeli Institute for Democracy, http://www.idi.org.il/ (February 2010).

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Staff, “Platform”, Yesh Atid, http://yeshatid.org.il/programmes/justice (2012).

[7] Staff, “The Coalition Making Game”, walla.com, http://news.walla.co.il/elections/?w=/2780/2609534 (January 2013).

[8] Staff, “Platform”, Yesh Atid, http://yeshatid.org.il/programmes/justice (2012).

[9] Staff, “Party Principles”, Habayit Hayehudi, http://www.baityehudi.org.il/our-principles/ (2012).

[10] Golan Moshe, “Decent Elections Results for the Economy”, Globes.com, http://www.globes.co.il/news/article.aspx?did=1000817526 (January 2013).

[11] Wolf Pinchas, “The Coalitional Negotiations Begin”, Walla.com, http://news.walla.co.il/?w=/9/2613046 (February 2013).

[12] Staff, “Platform.”

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