A new term for Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu: What does it mean for the peace process?
Hopes for a peace deal are virtually nil as Israeli voters head to the polls
On Tuesday, Israelis went to the polls to vote in parliamentary elections that are widely expected to give Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu another term in office. Hopes are dim that Netanyahu will try to restart peace talks with the Palestinians, and most analysts agree that his Likud party will likely form a governing coalition with far-right parties that are less than sympathetic to the plight of Palestinians living under occupation. Indeed, the rising star of the elections is Jewish Home, a religious nationalist party that opposes a Palestinian state and has advocated annexing a huge chunk of the West Bank.
In a rarity for an Israeli election season, national security issues have not even been at the forefront of the debate. Voters are far more concerned about domestic issues, such as reducing income inequality and eliminating an exemption from required military service for ultra-Orthodox Jews. That's because there is a near-consensus in Israel when it comes to Palestinians: There's no credible group or figure on the other side to negotiate with. As Amotz Asa-El at The Jerusalem Post writes:
[S]wing voters concluded that they were wasting their limited political resources on a conflict that they no longer believed will be solved in their lifetimes…
And so, though an end to the Middle East conflict is nowhere in sight, Israeli politics have entered the post-conflict era, as voters have come to see the conflict's treatment as a matter of management rather than ideology. [Jerusalem Post]
A majority of Israelis still support a two-state solution, and it's highly unlikely that Netanyahu would ever annex part of the West Bank. However, if there is an emerging consensus within Israel about the Arab-Israeli peace process, Israel is facing near-universal disapproval from the international community, which has objected to the country's recent attempts to expand settlements in sensitive areas of Jerusalem. According to Larry Derfner at Foreign Policy:
This Israeli campaign has thrown into stark relief the growing rift between how the world and how Israelis view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. To the world, Israel faces a clear choice — either go on ruling the Palestinians or meet their demand for independence. Israelis used to agree that this was indeed the dilemma — in years past, it's what elections were fought over. Not anymore, though. [Foreign Policy]
As Israel becomes increasingly isolated on the global stage, and becomes more and more conservative, its moral legitimacy to govern has been called into question. And analysts say that redounds to the benefit of the enemies that surround it, one reason why President Obama recently said, to much controversy, that "Israel doesn't know what its best interests are."
Some observers have called on the U.S., Israel's staunchest ally, to demand action before it's too late. "The greatest enemy to a two-state solution is the sheer pessimism on both sides," Bernard Avishai and Sam Bahour write in The New York Times. "Unless President Obama uses his new mandate to show leadership, the region will have no place for moderates — or for America either."