I admit to being a bit depressed about the political situation in Israel. A few days before the election, it seemed like Netanyahu and Likud were going to have a massive victory and that was bad as far as I am concerned, but I was preparing myself for it. Then, election day came and it became apparent that Kadima was going to have a much better result than was forecast. I became very hopeful. My expectations were raised. Kadima did have a better result than any other party for all the good it did them and party head Tzipi Livni. As Israel has a multiparty system where a coalition must have a simple majority of the 120 seats in the Knesset to govern, a party can win the most seats in an election and be unable to govern. Far Right parties in Israel including Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu http://www.beytenu.org/ and Shas among others can pull together a 65 seat majority, whereas the center to center right Kadima, center left Labor and other left parties can only muster 55 seats assuming the parties coalesce like is expected. This will be the first election in Israel where the leader of the party that won the most seats did not become Prime Minister and that party did not become part of the governing coalition.
One of the things this situation has taught me is that a multi-party system like those advocated by many of my progressive friends is not the cure-all they say it is. A multi-party system brought Hitler to power, put Jorg Haider partially in control of Austria in 2000, almost gave France to Jean-Marie Le Pen and now is going to give Israel a Netanyahu who will be prodded into governing more to the right than he might normally by his coalition partners. I was unconvinced about a true multi-party system in the US before this latest Israeli election and I am even less supportive of it now. The only thing a multi-party system seems good for is to allow ethnocentric, nationalistic, extreme right wing lunatics to come to power.
Israel is heading for trouble. Whenever a modern state has turned to the far right, the result has almost always been catastrophe for that country and often for many of its neighbors. Israel needs to be doing everything it can to form a permanent peace with the Palestinians and instead, this new coalition will freeze all negotiations and refuse to offer land concessions.
The only thing that one can hope for is that the new right wing coalition falls apart quickly. The fault line will be between Yisrael Beiteinu and the rest of the minor coalition partners on the issue of a Palestinian state. As racist as Beiteinu is, they believe in a two state solution albeit one where parts of Israel near the west bank currently populated by Israeli Arabs are forcibly split from Israel and become part of a new Palestinian state in an effort to make Israel more ethnically pure. Shas and other right wing religious parties in Israel believe that Israel should annex all of what was biblically promised to Jews and give nothing to the Palestinians. This puts Shas and Beiteinu on a collision course in this debate. Netanyahu knows this and will try to forestall any discussion of peace with the Palestinians. This will result in a rapid escalation of the violence level between Israel on one side and Hamas, the Palestinian Authority and Hezbollah on the other as the Palestinians get more and more frustrated and act out, and Netanyahu happily responds with lopsided force. Before the election, the Palestinians and other Arabs in the region were saying that it didn’t matter much who won the Israeli elections. Those who voiced this opinion will soon see how wrong they were. The brutality with which the Netanyahu government will respond to the Palestinians and anyone else giving them problems will dwarf other recent Israeli actions by comparison.
Obama and his administration have to be looking at these events with a mixture of sadness and frustration seeing their hopes for advancing Middle East peace dashed for at least the next 2-4 years. In terms of US and regional security, the toxic cauldron warmed by the Israeli-Palestinian problems will continue to provide a fertile source of terror recruitment in the Middle East. Obama could try to bring pressure to bear like threaten to withhold aid or stop the sale of weapons to Israel unless Israel engages in good faith negotiations with the Palestinians, but with Netanyahu and the rest of his coalition, I am not sure that would help. The new Middle East peace slogan might very well be ‘No, we can’t’.