The New York Times (Editorial)
January 24, 2013 - 1:00am


The political opponents of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel were ecstatic at his apparent losses in Tuesday’s elections. Haaretz, the left-leaning newspaper, called it a vote of no confidence that showed Mr. Netanyahu has “failed in the political sphere, the foreign policy sphere and the socioeconomic sphere.”

We wish we were as certain of what it means.

Mr. Netanyahu is weakened and his political future less certain, but he is still expected to be prime ministerafter the postelection horse trading is done.

The television celebrity Yair Lapid surprised many peopleby leading his party, Yesh Atid, to second place behind Mr. Netanyahu’s conservative Likud-Beiteinu ticket, taking 19 of Parliament’s 120 seats. Likud-Beiteinu won 31 seats, down from the 42 seats the parties held before. Mr. Lapid has indicated a willingness to form a coalition with Mr. Netanyahu, but other parties could also be enlisted in that effort. That could mean more centrist leaders joining Mr. Netanyahu and tempering his hard-right line on talks with the Palestinians and other issues, but it could also mean more hard-liners. The rejection of religious parties by an overwhelming majority of voters sends a signal that Israelis are tired of sectarian divisiveness and the often-oppressive policies that religious leaders have championed.

We wish Mr. Lapid’s election success constituted an unambiguous endorsement of vigorous peace talks, but voters in exit polls said they were more focused on domestic issues. Even though Mr. Netanyahu did worse than predicted, voters still gave the most seats to his ticket, which was purged of some moderates in favor of more right-wing candidates.

Still, there is a reason to hope that the new government could be more receptive to a peace initiative. The vote suggests that if it is not, Israelis may give even more support next time to a centrist coalition not led by Mr. Netanyahu. Mr. Lapid has been skeptical of the Palestinian leadership’s willingness to negotiate and has not made peace talks a priority. But he supports a two-state solution and renewing peace talks that have been frozen for four years.

Although he also has endorsed a two-state solution, Mr. Netanyahu has so aggressively built new settlements that it soon may be impossible to create a contiguous Palestinian state. His push has triggered international condemnation and strained relations with Washington.

Mr. Lapid is not the only new force in Israeli politics. Naftali Bennett, a settlement advocate and leader of a religious-Zionist party, is even more hard-line toward the Palestinians than Mr. Netanyahu. His party did worse than some had predicted, winning only 11 seats, but he remains a vocal force against the Palestinians.

Mr. Bennett has said that he would do everything in his power to make sure Palestinians never get a state. Such talk endangers Israel’s security by ensuring permanent occupation of the West Bank. It insults Palestinians who rejected violence and recognized Israel’s right to exist as part of the 1993 Oslo Accords. It is no vision for Israel’s future.

 The White House on Wednesday renewed its call for peace talks to resume. This won’t mean much if President Obama is not ready to invest political capital in a new diplomatic initiative. Unlike the bungled effort in his first term, though, he needs to carefully prepare the political ground, including making his first trip to Israel as president and explaining to the Israeli people how any peace plan will enhance their security.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017