With many commentators predicting big wins for the settler movement in Israel’s elections, the Knesset appeared poised for a hard-right shift. But though the official results won’t be in until eight days after the election, the exit polls show a much weaker right wing than predictions suggested.
Likud, the party of right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is down ten seats according to the exit polls, with 32 seats expected to go to the party. This could be attributed to voters’ rejection of Likud’s merger with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s hard-right Yisrael Beiteinu party. Record-high voter turnout is also thought to have contributed to the relatively low number of seats taken by Likud, a sign that the Israeli public as a whole is less right-wing than Netanyahu and his party may have believed.
The fact that the Knesset avoided a hard-right shift does not mean that the incoming government will do anything to benefit Palestinians. The right-wing Likud is still the single largest party in the Knesset. Party leader Netanyahu was responsible for November’s war of aggression against Gaza. He has also long been a cheerleader for war with Iran, recently taking a ridiculous caricature of a cartoon bomb to the UN and presenting it as evidence of Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear bomb. Netanyahu told the UN he was “ready to press the button if necessary,” an apparent threat to launch a nuclear bomb at Iran.
This belligerent stance toward Israel’s neighbors seems unlikely to change following Tuesday’s elections. Speaking to reporters in Tel Aviv, Likud’s Tzachi Hanegbi, a member of the Knesset, said maintaining Israel’s aggressive posture with Iran is the party’s top priority.
We will have to be very, very determined,” he said. “Time is running out, and we will have to fight the nuclear threat.”
The success of the new Yesh Atid party was considered the most surprising outcome of the elections. The party, led by Israeli TV personality Yair Lapid, is expected to take 19 seats in the Knesset, a major gain over the 12 seats predicted by the last polls released before election day.
Rabbi Dov Lipman, a Yesh Atid member and presumptive incoming member of the Knesset, said that Yesh Atid’s success reflects Israelis’ disappointment in their leadership.
“I think it’s a very clear statement that the people of Israel want to see a different direction,” he said.
Lipman’s fellow Yesh Atid member and incoming MK Yael German spoke to reporters of the moral imperative that comes with gaining seats in the Knesset. “I do feel a huge responsibility, you know, a kind of burden,” she said. “More than 500,000 people gave us their votes and their trust.”
However, Lipman and German both failed to mention the moral responsibility of Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and lift the siege on Gaza. German said the party’s main objective is to push the Knesset to comply with the five main principles Yesh Atid laid out during their campaign.
These principles include “Overhauling the educational system” and “Providing housing opportunities for IDF veterans and young couples,” but fail to mention Palestine (or, indeed, Palestinians) even once. But Yesh Atid is in favor of enlisting “Arab populations” into the Israeli army or other “national service” programs, a position that seems unlikely to benefit Palestinians.
I think it’s a very clear statement that the people of Israel want to see a different direction
Although the right-wing overall did much worse than expected, rising pro-settler political star Naftali Bennet’s racist and ultra-nationalist Jewish Home party is predicted to raise its share of Knesset seats from seven to 12. The Jewish Home party was expected to gain at least 14 seats in these elections, but the fact that it was able to increase its share of seats at all signals a disturbing current in Israeli politics.
Bennet’s so-called “stability initiative” is a clear-cut expression of unbridled racism and Zionist expansionist fantasy. Bennett calls for complete annexation of all Area C areas, including a permanent continuation of Israel’s illegal seizure of Palestinian national resources. A Jewish Home campaign ad claims “The establishment of a Palestinian state based on the ’67 borders is impossible, because it puts Israel in danger.”
Palestinian parties seem to have actually lost ground in the elections, another sign that the Knesset elections will most likely do little to end the occupation of the West Bank or the siege of Gaza. The Palestinian-led Balad party is expected to take two seats in the incoming Knesset, down from three in the current Knesset. Ra’am-Ta’al, also known as United Arab List, will probably slip from four seats to three, and the joint Palestinian-Jewish party Hadash will likely stay steady at four.
Of course, the low performance of Palestinian parties in the elections can be attributed to the fact that most Palestinians are not allowed to vote for Knesset. When the West Bank and Gaza are taken into account, only one out of three people living under direct Israeli military control are allowed to vote. This fact casts serious doubt on the validity of the frequent claim that Israel is “the only Democracy in the Middle East.”
A bright spot in the election results is the apparent failure of the Otzma LeYisrael, or “Power to Israel,” party to pick up even one seat in the incoming Knesset. Otzma LeYisrael is a settler party to the right of even the Jewish Home party, famous for racist political stunts such as playing the Muslim call to prayer at high volume in a Tel Aviv suburb as part of a campaign calling for the outlawing of the call to prayer in all Israeli-controlled areas.
Before the eviction of the Bab al-Shams village set up to protest illegal Israeli expansion in the E1 area,Otzma LeYisrael called for the IDF to “throw all the Arab rioters out of there” despite the fact that the protest was entirely peaceful. The party also stirred up trouble with a series of campaign ads, eventually banned for racism, reading in Arabic: “No Duties, No Rights.”
The still-uncertain defeat of Otzma LeYisrael, who were expected to gain as many as three seats in the Knesset, provides a glimmer of hope (although when soldier’s votes are counted the party may still manage to gain seats). But the mainstream parties who won the elections have shown no interest in ending the occupation, proving once again that Israeli electoral politics does not provide an effective means for combatting Israel’s illegal policies in the West Bank and Gaza.