ONLY TWO certain conclusions could be drawn in the immediate aftermath of the general election in Israel this week: voters opted overwhelmingly for centre-right and right-wing candidates; and Labour, the party seen as most conciliatory in the peace process, was humiliated.
As Kadima, led by the Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, is forecast to beat Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud bloc by only a whisker, a period of tough bargaining can be expected before some kind of coalition is put together. A key player will be Avigdor Lieberman, head of the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu, which came third in the polls.
Whatever cocktail of political parties eventually forms a government, Israel’s next administration is likely to be fragile and therefore in a poor position to make tough compromises in the interests of peace.
“Whatever way you look at it, there has been a major shift to the right,” said the Revd Mitri Raheb of the Annadwa ecumenical centre in Bethlehem.
“I am not hopeful, because the result means a move towards greater instability. It is sad that the majority of Israelis are becoming more extremist.”
The liberal Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz urged Kadima to join with Labour as the basis for a future coalition, arguing that “a merger would strengthen the camp that supports a division of the land and a peace deal with Syria, in contrast with the right wing, which opposes any compromise or withdrawal. The establishment of a large bloc in the center of the political spectrum will also help resolve the stability problem.”
But even a centrist coalition between Kadima and Labour would still be at the mercy of the smaller nationalist and religious parties. It is likely that Likud and Beitenu would unite to try to block any Kadima/ Labour partnership.
So, in terms of the hopes for peace, the outcome could hardly have been more discouraging. Kadima is tainted in Palestinian eyes for having waged the recent war on Gaza.
Also, the Palestinians are in no position to extend a firm hand to the next coalition in Israel. This state of affairs will continue as long as the split remains between Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza. A Hamas spokesman described the outcome of the Israeli elections as “a victory for the trio of terrorism, Livni, Netanyahu, and Lieberman”.