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January 23, 2013: Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves to supporters at the Likud party headquarters in Tel Aviv. Reuters/Nir Elias
The story of the Israeli elections is not, as was expected, the dominance of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing Likud-Beiteinu coalition with former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman. Instead, it is the unlikely triumph of Yair Lapid, a media celebrity who managed to secure 19 seats in the next Knesset, making his newly formed Yesh Atid, or There Is a Future, the second-largest party in Israel. In the coming days, Lapid will play a pivotal role in the formation of the next governing coalition, and he is certain to receive a ministerial role in any future administration.
What's more, Lapid has offered scant evidence that he views the Palestinian issue any differently than Netanyahu does. When he unveiled his foreign policy platform last year, Lapid chose to do so at a university inside the illegal mega-settlement of Ariel. Israel "must at last get rid of the Palestinians and put a fence between us," he declared, explaining that he chose to launch his campaign at the settlement because "there is no map on which Ariel isn't a part of the state of Israel." Like Netanyahu, he says he strongly opposes the division of Jerusalem, an implicit rejection of the international consensus for a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. (The Labor Party, which won 15 seats and is generally labeled center-left, also supports annexing the major settlement blocs.)
In a 2007 column for the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonoth, Lapid insisted that ending the occupation would mean certain death for himself and fellow Israeli Jews. He wrote, "It may be true that the humane thing is to remove the roadblocks and checkpoints, to stop the occupation immediately, to enable the Palestinians freedom of movement in the territories, to tear down the bloody inhumane wall, to promise them the basic rights ensured to every individual. It's just that I will end up paying for this with my life.... Call me a weakling; call me thickheaded -- I don't want to die."
With Lapid as the lead partner in a Netanyahu-led coalition, there is no indication that occupation will not deepen, or that settlement expansion will cease. The most concerted challenge to the status quo will not emerge from "centrist" parties like Lapid's Yesh Atid, but from another element that is certain to play a decisive role in the next government and that is the most politically dynamic force in Israeli society today: the pro-settler camp. The settlement movement has captured the heart of Netanyahu's Likud Party, replacing moderate old-timers with a cadre of younger zealots. Then there is Naftali Bennett, a committed religious nationalist and savvy high-tech entrepreneur who has transformed a marginal far-right party, Jewish Home, into a force to be reckoned with.
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