The Israeli election results have thrown a surprise. Pundits and laymen alike had expected that this election would see Israelis drifting, en masse, to the far right in a way not seen before. Also, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was expected to emerge stronger and continue his sabre-rattling against Iran with more vitriol.
After the elections, Netanyahu has emerged weakened and chastened. The rightwing alliance he forged with the former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman won only 31 of parliament’s 120 seats, with Netanyahu’s party’s share weighing in with around 20. That compares with 27 in the last parliament. The most remarkable was the rise from nowhere of celebrity journalist Yair Lapid, whose nine-month-old party, which campaigned on socio-economic issues, stunned everyone by winning 19 seats, emerging as the partner of choice for Netanyahu after the poor showing of the his Likud-Beitenu list. The election also proved that it’s premature to write obituaries of Israel’s centre-left parties.
The coming days and weeks will be spent attempting to assemble a viable coalition government from nine parties now in the Israeli parliament. It is inevitable that Netanyahu will have to make serious concessions to his new coalition partners, which he is willing to do. The presence of Lapid will have a sobering effect on the hawkish prime minister.
For Lapid’s party, Iran is not a priority and maybe that’s one reason why he did so well. On Palestine, he might favour negotiations rather than the use of bulldozers.
Netanyahu deserves the setback he suffered. Years in power and the absence of a powerful opponent who can match him had made him myopic, arrogant and insensitive and he behaved like a monopolist.
While the battering which Netanyahu has suffered is good news, it will not translate into anything solid for Palestinians, as was stated by Palestinian leaders. On the key issues of settlements and the peace process, Netanyahu is not expected to cede an inch, more than what he had already done or not done. But his weakening provides a window of opportunity for the United States and other Western states to put pressure on him, though it’s unlikely to produce any results. But on Iran, he will be forced to listen to others, including his own coalition partners and the US, rather than embark on a dangerous course that will lead to an attack.
The results show that as in Arab countries, economy and living conditions are the top priority for Israelis too. The seeds of this election results were sown during the mass protests held in Israel for better living life and economy. Those slogans were not forgotten, but were waiting for an opportunity to find an expression. This election provided that opportunity•