Israeli Elections: Initial Assessment of Results

The elections to the 18th Israeli Knesset were called due to multiple corruption cases connected to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.  However, the elections’ agenda was radically altered by the Israeli military offensive against Gaza in December 2008-January 2009.

Israel’s military offensive against Gaza and the major protest demonstrations organized by Palestinian citizens of Israel focused the election campaign on two main issues: what should be the Israeli peace and security policy and what should be the relationship between the state and its Palestinian minority.

Those issues split the Israeli population and led to the disappearance, for all intents and purposes, of the center-left agenda.

On the one hand, there is a new Israeli consensus that clearly rejects any further steps in the peace process.  Under certain circumstances this center will be willing to continue negotiations with the current Palestinian Authority, but it will be unwilling to make any significant concessions.  On the other hand, the Palestinian minority of Israel and its political parties clearly rejected the violent policies that characterize the state of Israel.  In addition, the Palestinian minority of Israel and the political parties traditionally associated with it — the National Democratic Assembly, Ra’am-Ta’al, and Hadash — managed to mobilize a not negligible portion of the Jewish-Israeli population for them and their agenda.

It further led to the eradication of the well-intentioned do-gooder liberals from the political map.  Parties like Meretz and Meimad-The Green Movement got certain political support in kibbutzim and from the Tel Aviv middle class, but their message proved irrelevant to the majority of Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Furthermore, the Labor Party and its peace-with-security message, which underlined Israel’s Gaza offensive, proved irrelevant to the Israeli Palestinian and Jewish population.

The election process that began as a corruption case became a referendum on the power of the state and democratic rights.  The winners were those who want a strong state that takes precedence over democratic values, and only the risk of international isolation may prevent the establishment of a state-above-all governing coalition.  This coalition may include the Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu, Shas, United Torah Judaism, the National Union, and the Jewish Home.  Such a coalition would total 65 members of Knesset (out of 120), divided by internal disagreements.

An alternative coalition including Likud, Kadima, and Labor would have 70 MKs and enjoy international legitimacy.  However, such a government would be extremely unstable and contradictory.

The non-Zionist left of Al-Tajamo’a, Hadash, and the United Arab List, which expresses an intransigent democratic project, strengthened its parliamentary presence.  However, the divisions amongst the three parties, which all share similar programs and parliamentary practices, currently prevent them from becoming a democratic pole of attraction for the Israeli society.

The foreseen instability of the future governing coalition suggests to us that there may be elections again within the next two years.  It is imperative that, facing those elections, the democratic left unite and present an alternative to the growing fascist forces in the Israeli society.

Sergio Yahni is the Program Director of the Alternative Information Center (AIC) in Jerusalem.  This article was first published by the Alternative Information Center on 11 February 2009.