Instant Analysis--The Israeli Elections
The preliminary results of the Israeli elections are in, as repored here.
The main winner appears to have been apathy. The turnout of 63.7% may seem high by U.S. standards, but it was in fact the lowest percentage turnout in Israeli history.
In addition to the low turnout, there are other signs of an unhealthy body politic in Israel. A one-issue party, the Pensionaires party, which concerns itself solely with preserving the pensions of retired persons, actually won 6-8 Knesset seats. Alright, the elderly are understandably concerned regarding their pensions, and we all know how powerful a lobby the AARP is in the United States, but at this critical time in history, would one choose to cast one's vote for a party that takes a position only on that issue? Talk about, "I've got mine, Jack." Or perhaps, "I'll keep mine, Jack, and to heck with the future after I'm gone."
As expected, Kadima, the party founded by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and headed by the acting Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, won the most seats, estimated at between 28 and 32 mandates in the 120 seat Knesset. But that is far less than the polls were indicating some weeks ago, which at one point suggested that Kadima would win over 40 seats.
A rejuvenated Labor Party, which has gone back to its trade union roots, has increased its Knesset faction to perhaps 18-20 seats. Conceivably, then Olmert could put together a Center-Left coalition, holding at least a 61-seat majority, comprising Kadima, Labor, the Pensionaires and only one other party. The additional party could be another left-wing party, an Arab party or one of the Haredi (fervently Orthodox) parties that is not overly concerned about territorial concessions.
Likud and Benjamin Netanyahu were clearly the big losers. Likud drops from being the largest party to the fourth largest, with perhaps only 12 seats. It lost its centrist voters to Kadima and its right-wing voters to the Israel Beiteinu ("Israel Our Home") a nationalist party headed by former Likud MK (Member of the Knesset) and Russian immigrant, Avigdor Lieberman. Israel Beiteinu will hold 12 to 15 seats in the new Knesset, making it Israel's third largest party. Netanyahu did a wonderful job of retoring Israel's economy as Finance Minister in the Sharon government, but he did so at the cost of those reliant on the Israeli social safety net, cutting government payments to poor families with many children and the elderly. His party was punished for that offense at the polls, as well.
Despite the showing by the Israel Beiteinu, the future is not rosy for Israel's nationalist right. The combined vote of all of the nationalist right-wing parties will be at most round 35 seats, well short of a workable majority in the Knesset, even if they were joined in coalition by the Hareidi religious parties. The Israeli nationalist right is back in the political wilderness it inhabited from 1949 through 1977, when Menachem Begin was its lonely prophet in opposition.
The vast majority of the Israeli people have clearly voted for a continuation of the policy of unilateral disengagement. Unlike the illusions of the Oslo years, Israelis no longer operate under the fantasy that they have a negotiating partner for peace on the Palestinian side. Therefore, they want only to separate themselves from the Palestinians, keeping large settlement blocks close to the pre-June 1967 borders (which were really just the armstice lines established at the end of Israel's War of Independence in 1949); and giving everything else, including most Paletinian population centers, over the the Palestinian Authority. Although an arguably healthier outlook than pro-Oslo camp, this approach hints at a despair, of exhaustion with the struggle, a flight from dealing with the reality of being surrounded by foes who want to destroy Israel.
Unfortunately, that reality still is out there. Note the end of the linked news story about the elections, which reports:
On Tuesday morning, Palestinian militants for the first time fired a longer-range Russian-made Katyusha rocket from Gaza into Israel, and security officials said the precedent was very worrisome.
Katyushas can reach larger Israeli towns near Gaza, and are far deadlier than the homemade Qassam rockets militants have fired in the last five years of Israeli-Palestinian fighting.
Election Day Missile Launched from Gaza into Israel