The world will be watching the outcome of today’s Israeli election to see what course the nation may take on such matters as Iran’s possible nuclear proliferation and the Palestinian question. But ironically, the election campaign within Israel was about more domestic matters, with little debate over issues that obsess much of the rest of the world.
The re-election of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is considered a certainty, but how many like-minded members of the Israeli 120-seat Knesset will be joining him, is the real question. Because of Israel’s proportional representation system of voting, it is hard for one party to dominate the election. So for Netanyahu to get anything done, he and his Likud Party will have to form coalitions with other leaders. Most observers expect the makeup of the Knesset to be more right-wing and hardline.
The most pressing issues confronting the new leadership are primarily economic: the high cost of living and the lack of affordable housing.
Shelly Yacimovich, the leader of the more liberal Labor Party, has been using the economy to hammer away at the poor economic stewardship of the Likud.
If Netanyahu is re-elected as expected, his next task will be to figure out who he will have the Likud Party join with to establish a governing coalition. Most observers believe that of the 34 parties running for seats, Likud will join with the even more right-wing Yisrael Beitenu Party, led by former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, to form the most powerful bloc, with some predictions estimating their strength at about 30 seats, which is far less than the current 42 seats Netanyahu controls.
With a platform that supports more Jewish settlements in the West Bank, this new coalition will virtually kill any prospect of a two-state solution if Israel continues its incursion into Palestinian territory.
“I hope that whatever Israeli government emerges …. that it will recognize that we are approaching the last chance to bring about such a solution,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague told the British Parliament today. “I condemn recent Israeli decisions to expand settlements. I speak regularly to Israeli leaders stressing our profound concern that Israel’s settlement policy is losing the support of the international community and will make a two-state solution impossible.”
Hague said he hoped that Netanyahu’s re-election and President Obama’s second term, will reignite peace talks in Israel — something that hasn’t happened in years as Obama apparently has concluded that there’s no future in such talks as long as Netanyahu is in office.
Nahum Barnea, one of Israel’s most prominent political columnists, wrote in the newspaper Yediot Aharonot on Tuesday: “One of the reasons for the despondent atmosphere is anxiety about the future. Young people are anxious because of the high price of apartments and the loss of job security; older people are anxious about Israel’s isolation in the world and an economic crisis that might wipe out their savings. Everyone is anxious about war.”
The pre-election campaigns “failed to provide a calming answer to any of those anxieties,” he added. “At the end of the day, when the results are in, there will still be no answer. The sense will be that the story is over. In fact, it will only be beginning.”
Turnout appeared to be around 63 percent, less than in 2009 when it was at 65 percent, but more than in the four previous elections.
Erel Margalit, a venture capitalist Labor Party candidate who appeared likely to get a seat, said the large turnout was a “protest vote” against Netanyahu’s policies on dealing with the Palestinians and the economy, and a continuation of the social protests that brought 500,000 people to the streets of Tel Aviv in the summer of 2011.
“It’s a clear demonstration of how many Israelis feel like something needs to be done and something needs to change,” Margalit, a first-time candidate, told reporters at an election-night party. “It was not a fringe phenomenon, it was a mainstream phenomenon. It is moving from the streets into the political arena.”
With a population of 7.5 million, Israel is more than 75 percent Jewish, but with an increasingly diverse population from Europe, the Middle East, Africa and the Americas.