Hassan Barari
Arab News (Opinion)
January 25, 2013 - 1:00am

The outcome of the most recent Israeli general elections of Tuesday has not only weakened the incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu but also made it difficult for him to do a balancing act. The results came as a worse case scenario to Netanyahu who hoped for a clear victory and a new mandate from the Israeli public. Although the list headed by Netanyahu and contested election remained the largest in the Knesset, the ascendance of the newly formed political party — Yesh Atid (there is a future) — will complicate Netanyahu’s calculations with regard to forming a new government. This centrist party became second in the elections. Therefore, Netanyahu may feel compelled to join forces with it. Such a move means that the new government will be closer to the center than to the right as was the case with the outgoing government.
Yesh Atid, now second in size, encourages the resumption of peace negotiations with the Palestinians. In this case, it remains to be seen how Netanyahu will be accommodating the rising hawkish elements within his own party and other rightist and religious parties in the Knesset. Of course, there is a chance that Israel will have a government that is more centrist, more inclusive, and less religious than the one before. This can be good news for a great number of Israelis. And yet, this kind of government cannot survive any genuine progress in the peace process with the Palestinians.
The new development is that for the first time in a decade, we have a prime minister who negotiates to establish a new working coalition with leftists and centrist partners from a position of weakness. In such weakened position, Benjamin Netanyahu will have to make political concessions that he would not have made had the outcome been different.
Netanyahu hoped to form a government with Naftali Bennett from the extremists Habayit Hayehudi party and other religious and rightist parties but he is caught up in a neck-and neck tally of 61-59 in a 120-seat Knesset.
Under such conditions, he will have to partner with Yair Lapid who leads Yesh Atid. It seems that Netanyahu’s favorite game is a coalition in which he appears on the left of his partners. Now Netanyahu has to offer many political concessions that bring him closer to the center than he wished. Will this resonate with the religious and rightist political parties? Absolutely no! This time around Yair Lapid’s focus is on internal issues — especially education — which could enrage the religious parties and threaten the stability of the coalition.
Such a government can hold for some time. Partners may overcome their differences on internal matters. Nonetheless, it is highly unlikely that this coalition can hold in the face of any progress related to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Judging by their well-entrenched positions, there seems to be unbridgeable gap among the different parties as to what peace with the Palestinians can be accepted. Yesh Atid led by Lapid — a pivotal one in this kid of coalition — is willing to accept a two-state solution and to put a cap on settlement activities. This may well create some serious friction within the coalition and can threaten its endurance as well.
By many yardsticks, the elections signaled that the rules of the game in Israel have changed. Netanyahu emerged as one of the biggest loser. Instead of obtaining some 42 seats he lost 10 seats perhaps due to his alliance with Lieberman of Yisrael Beiteinu. Initially, Netanyahu sought to strengthen his grip on politics by allying his party with Lieberman’s party. Evidently this game has backfired and now Netanyahu is licking the wounds of this unforeseen outcome.
That said, it is not as if Israel is ready to move on with the Palestinians to conclude a peace agreement. Far from forming a government that can lead Israel down the road of peace, the new government will be paralyzed by internal constrains to pursue a genuine peace process with the Palestinian with the intention to resolve the conflict.
It is true that the outcome of elections produced a different Knesset makeup with a new key newcomer, yet one thing in Israeli politics persisted: The new government is most likely to be unwilling, less desiring, to push for a peace treaty with the Palestinians that is based on the lines of 1967. And hence matters are almost heading toward same ol’ same ol’!


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