The Israeli Central Election Committee’s announcement of the final results for the January 22 general election shows a sharp fall in support for the Likud-led coalition under Binyamin Netanyahu. Mr. Netanyahu will remain Prime Minister, but his right-wing Likud Yisrael Beiteinu alliance has lost over a quarter of its members in the 120-member Knesset, plummeting from 42 to 31 seats. Under the fully proportional electoral system, which has a 2 per cent threshold, Shelly Yachimovich’s Labor Party made an unexpected recovery to win 15 seats, a gain of seven, and the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home Party under Naftali Bennett gained six to finish with 11, tying with Eli Yishai’s Shas, also on the Right. The biggest surprise, however, was the performance of the newest party, Yesh Atid (There is a Future) under former political journalist Yair Lapid, which despite being formed only in April 2012, won 19 seats to move the composition of the Knesset firmly towards the centre of Israeli politics.
The centre-left and right parliamentary blocs will be divided exactly in two if Arab parties such as the Arab List-Taal are included with the former. Mr. Netanyahu must anyway try to form a coalition with Mr. Lapid, who campaigned on socio-economic issues and an end to the exemption of orthodox Jews from military service; he now demands the finance ministership and the chair of the Knesset Finance Committee for his party. According to a national report, almost a quarter of all Israelis live in poverty, and in 2011 the Netanyahu government was rocked by unprecedented public protests against rising prices and other such problems. Yet while those issues are significant, the apparent shift in voters’ concerns from national security to economic matters means that the vestigial peace process will be neglected even further. None of the main parties dare admit that the settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are illegal, that even Israel’s closest and least critical ally, the United States, thinks that too, and that continued expansion of the settlements only compounds the illegality. Even the 700-km long separation barrier which Israel is putting between itself and the West Bank Palestinians is leading Israelis to think less and not more about a just and lasting peace with the Palestinians. It is also likely that far-right parties will shift Mr. Netanyahu rightwards by putting pressure on any government he can cobble together. Even as the politicians campaigned, Israeli troops shot dead five unarmed young Palestinians, including a woman, in the first few weeks of 2013; the rights group B’Tselem says none posed a threat. For the Palestinians, the tragic truth is that this election will change nothing.