Israel’s Upcoming Elections: No Hope We Can Believe In

There’s no hope that Israel’s voters will take to the streets and demand leadership that doesn’t endanger the future of the Jewish democracy.

Carlo Strenger
Carlo Strenger
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Carlo Strenger
Carlo Strenger

Israel’s next elections will take place in a bit more than three months, and there have been some interesting developments.

Aryeh Deri’s return to the helm of Shas might turn this party from an appendix to the anti-democratic right-wing policies of the current coalition into a more productive contributor to urgently needed social policies.

Yair Lapid is entering politics with an agenda of cleaning up Israel’s political culture, changing the election system and ending the anomaly that places the settlers and the ultra-Orthodox beyond Israel’s legal system, and his list will include former Shin Bet head Jacob Perry, who is a trusted public and business leader.

Despite all that, the basics of Israeli politics are bound to remain the same: The defining characteristic determining Israel’s core policies depends on the relationship between the right-religious bloc that includes the Likud, Yisrael Beitenu, the ultra-Orthodox and the national religious parties, and the so-called center-left bloc that includes Kadima, Labor, Meretz, the Arab parties, and now Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid.

Haaretz’s latest poll shows that the historical trend towards the right continues: it predicts 68 mandates for the right-religious bloc and 52 for the center left. This is, to some extent, misleading, because the center-left bloc includes ten or eleven mandates of Israel’s Arab parties, and these are largely outside the actual political game – an anomaly that has been in existence since Arab parties have been participating in Israel’s elections. Within the Jewish electorate, the right-religious bloc is therefore predicted to outnumber the center-left bloc by more than fifty percent.

This means that Netanyahu will almost certainly be Israel’s prime minister for another term, and we can assume that we will see a repeat of the strategy from the outgoing term - after the elections he will create a coalition with his “natural partners” from the right-religious bloc. From this comfortable position he will be able to dictate the terms for anybody from the center-left bloc willing to join this coalition.

So far it looks that there will not even be a real contest for the position of prime minister. Labor leader Shelly Yachimovich has already indicated her willingness to join a government led by Netanyahu, provided that it will implement some social policies. Yachimovich has so far refrained to say a word about either foreign policy or security.

It seems that she does so for good reasons - she has no known record on these matters, probably doesn’t really consider herself capable of leading the country, and has already conceded the race for the position. Judging from the current polls Netanyahu will therefore, once again, end up with a coalition of more than 85 MKs and will rule without any real opposition.

What does this mean for Israel’s future? Netanyahu has proven beyond a doubt that he is not willing to move towards a viable Palestinian state. His primary achievement this term has been to put the Palestinian issue on the backburner by making Iran the central theme of his foreign and security policy. This certainly suits both Yisrael Beitenu and the national-religious parties; it also serves Shas, whose electorate is right leaning, and it doesn’t bother the ultra-Orthodox parties.

Yachimovich has in no way indicated that she considers a firm commitment to a two state solution as a necessary condition for joining the coalition. Therefore any remaining glimmer of hope for salvaging the two state solution will be extinguished - another three or four years of expropriations and settlement expansion will destroy any Palestinian hope for a state of their own. They will come to the conclusion that history has moved on, and will probably wait for the emergence of a bi-national state west of the Jordan.

Nevertheless no politician in Israel can take a firm position on an agreement with the Palestinians without jeopardizing his or her chances to attract votes. Israel’s electorate has become so deeply pessimistic that it simply does not want to face the one, big issue that truly determines Israel’s fate as the democratic homeland of the Jews - the occupation that has been in existence for more than two thirds of Israel’s history.

What do Israelis want, then? Consistently two thirds of Israel’s voters believe that only the two state solution can lead to peace – and the same proportion believe that it cannot be implemented within the foreseeable future. Israeli voters’ fears of changing the status quo are understandable - the second intifada and the shelling of Southern Israel has made them unwilling to take any further risks. But these fears are leading us to an inevitable tragedy. As Akiva Eldar has reported Israeli government sources have stated that Jews are a minority west of the Jordan.

Many readers and friends have asked me whether I have a constructive proposal, and Akiva Eldar has argued that burying the two state solution is defeatist. But I believe that my task is to analyze the situation as clearly as I can. I wish that, together with many others who are putting great energy into salvaging Israel’s future, I could wake up those who would believe that the status quo is sustainable, and that Israel will emerge from it intact; I wish they would realize that Israel holding on to the territories means the end of the democratic homeland of the Jews; I wish they would take to the streets and demand Israel’s leadership not to sink the Titanic. I just don’t see hope that I can believe in.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.Credit: Michal Fattal
A protest march in Tel Aviv in June 2012. The sign reads, "The people demand social justice."Credit: Hadar Cohen

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