Wednesday, January 23, 2013

MeAyin Ya'avo Ezri? Certainly not from this election.


The headlines say things like “Israeli Election Stunner: Right and Left Tied!”, or “Israel Election Opens Dialogue on Settlements”. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

While yesterday's election indeed showed us a few surprises, and many new faces have now made it into the Knesset, and while the election results were in many ways a rebuke of Prime Minister Netanyahu - there is certainly no opening whatsoever here for peace, justice and/or reconciliation with the Palestinians or even a serious "dialogue on the settlements." That will come – if at all – because of outside pressure, either from the Palestinians themselves or from the West. And it will come – again, if at all – only after the next elections, not from this newly elected Knesset.

The chart above shows the official election results as of Wednesday afternoon Israeli time. The results so far are: Likud 31 seats, Yesh Atid (Yair Lapid) 19, Labour 15, Shas 11, HaBayit HaYehudi (Nafatali Bennet) 11, United Torah Judaism 7, Hatnuah (Tzipi Livni) 6, Meretz 6, Raam-Taal 5, Hadash 4, Balad 3, and Kadima 2.

Final results will not be known until Thursday or Friday when the military vote is added in. Typically this adds a seat or two to the “right”. But even if the seat allocation remains the same or (and this is highly unlikely) shifts against Netanyahu’s current coalition there is zero chance of a peace-advancing government arising from this election.

The optical illusion of a close race occurs because of the popular, but incorrect framing of Israeli electoral politics as being composed of two blocks: the “religious – right" on the one hand, and the “centre – left” on the other. Using this flawed analysis we see that "the blocks" are indeed tied. The “religious - right block" consists of Likud, Habayit Hayehudi, Shas, and United Torah Judaism. They currently have 60 seats. The “centre - left block” consists of Yesh Atid, Labour, Hatnuah, Meretz , Raam-Taal, Hadash, Balad, and Kadima. They too have 60 seats. And while the two block theory may well describe the nature of the governing coalition versus the opposition in the outgoing Knesset, these are not stable or cohesive blocks.

More importantly the two block model does not reflect the parties’ range of positions on the crucial “Palestinian” question. In regard to this – the most existential question facing Israel – there are at least three blocks:

  • “the hawks” who wish to strengthen Israel’s hold on the occupied territories and increase Jewish dominance over the Palestinians; 
  • “the doves” who wish to end the occupation and wish for greater equality between Jews and Palestinians; and 
  • “the chickens” who – for whatever reason – don’t have an extremely strong opinion about these issues one way or the other, and who, more importantly, and as a matter of practical policy, are content to maintain the status quo vis a vis the Palestineans.

Using this analysis we have the following election results.

  • Hawks (Likud, Habayit Hayehudi) 42 seats
  • Doves (Hatnuah, Meretz, Raam-Taal, Hadash, Balad) 24 seats
  • Chickens (Yesh Atid, Labour, Shas, UTJ, Kadima) 54 seats. (And yes I know that Shas – for most practical purposes – behaves like a “hawk” party, but this is not essential to its platform or raison d’etre.)

Using this lens we clearly see that there is no possible majority coalition for making the needed moves to achieve peace justice and reconciliation with the Palestinians  Add to that the fact the 12 of the seats in the “doves” block are from non-Zionist “Arab” parties – parties that none of the “chicken” or “hawk” parties would ever agree to admit into the government, and you see how far we really are from a “tie” or from an “opening and dialogue on settlements.” [Update: As if to highlight my last point the Jerusalem Post reported most recently: "Lapid says no to Labor effort to block Netanyahu from forming a government. "We won't cooperate with Haneen Zoabi." Zoabi is a Knesset member of an "Arab" party.]

As the Globe and Mail reported: “Whatever this election was about, it wasn't about making peace with the Palestinians …. It was about what Israelis want in their daily lives.” What is so sad about this is that most Israelis don’t think their government’s policies in the West Bank or towards Palestinians has anything to do with their daily lives. Out of sight is out of mind, and the status quo is the best of all possible worlds. Or, at least, it is until one day it isn't. When and from where will the pressure come to change this perception? I don't know. A "dove" can legitimately ask, "MeAyin Ya'avo Ezri?" Certainly not from this election.

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