Election results send Israeli old guard into its twilight

Atul Aneja
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‘Netanyahu told he is no longer the king’; blow to centre-left

Israel’s remarkable election appears to have pushed the old warhorses of realpolitik into their twilight, opening the door to fresh and younger faces.

“This is a moment of inflexion where the old guard is fading out, but a new one is yet to fully emerge,” says Barak Ravid, diplomatic correspondent for Haaretz newspaper. Sharing his views at a Tel Aviv café, Mr. Ravid added: “We experienced a similar phenomenon after the 1973 war. The Labour Party managed to win then by a thinner margin in the 1974 elections, but those polls really set the tone for the assertion of Likud, which subsequently became an extremely formidable force.”

From his perch in East Jerusalem’s picturesque Wadi Jose, Dr. Mahdi F.Abdul Hadi, head of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs (Passia), also observed that the elections were a paradigm shift in Israeli politics.

“The 1.5 million supporters of Avigdor Lieberman [leader of right-wing Yisrael Beitenu] have failed in their project to eject Arabs out of Israel.

The elections also showed that the half-million settlers in West Bank and East Jerusalem are also not the future. Finally [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu was bluntly told by the electorate that he no longer is king,” said Dr. Abdul Hadi.

The deep ideological contradictions among the parties are likely to shorten the life-span of any new coalition government. Consequently, Yair Lapid — the star performer in this election with his Yesh Atid party grabbing 19 crucial seats — may have already begun to position himself as a prime ministerial candidate for the next elections, says Mr. Ravid.Despite Mr. Netanyahu’s offer of several plum posts, Mr. Lapid may opt for the less controversial Foreign Minister’s portfolio. As Finance or Defence Minister, he would have to deliver results that are hard to achieve in the short term.

However, some of his well-wishers say that if he chooses to be really creative, Mr. Lapid could team up in Parliament with Tzipi Lvini, whose Hatnuah party won six seats, and Shaul Mofaz, whose Kadima managed two. With 27 seats under his command, he could then strike a bargain with the Likud-Beitenu combine, thus becoming Deputy Prime Minister. The Foreign and Defence portfolios could go to Ms. Livni and Mr. Mofaz.

Talks revival unlikely

Unless severely jolted by the Obama administration, the emerging government in Israel is unlikely to revive peace talks with the Palestinians. Many liberal Israelis are of the view that fresh life can be breathed into the moribund peace process only if two strategic decisions are taken: for a declaration against construction of additional settlements; and for more area in the West Bank to be committed for the formation of a viable Palestinian state. But sceptics say that with the Prime Minister handling the Palestinian issue, such an initiative appears remote as long as Mr. Netanyahu is at the helm.

Some analysts opine that four years of general “stagnation” under Mr. Netanyahu, when he seemed out of tune with the hopes and aspirations of the young middle class, went a long way in triggering the demand for change.

The 2011 protests, which turned the trendy Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv into an encampment of the aggrieved, was in itself a demonstration of a simmering middle-class revolt, which most old world politicians failed to grasp.

“These protests may re-ignite, with larger consequences if the new government remains unresponsive,” observed Dani Abrahimi, a Tel Aviv based computer engineer turned Indophile.

  • Lapid could get to choose between Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister posts

  • Peace talks require freeze on settlements, unlikely under Netanyahu

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