The election is a bit more than a week away. Some pundits are sure it will produce more of the same, while others are either pleased or fearful about changes they anticipate.
Most certain is that Netanyahu will continue as Prime Minister, and most likely with his core of support being Likud with the addition of Lieberman's party (for the time being without Lieberman busy with a criminal charge), along with Jewish Home and the ultra-Orthodox parties.
Creating no little concern are changes within Likud's Knesset delegation and that of Jewish Home. Both are tilted sharply to the right of what had been old and familiar faces in the previous Knesset. Prominent moderates Benny Begin, Dan Meridor, and Michael Eitan lost high rankings in Likud's primary, while Moshe Feiglin won a safe place on the ticket, after several years of going against Netahyahu's efforts to keep him squawking from the distance. What Feiglin has been demanding--a greater emphasis on Israel's Jewishness, annexing large portions of the West Bank, ending any possibility of a Palestinian state, and--most recently--proposing $500,000 for every Palestinian family willing to move elsewhere--would seem to put him with the more extreme new MK's likely to represent Jewish Home, or even further to the right and beyond the boundaries of a Netanyahu coalition.
Jewish Home is the surprise of this election. Like other upstarts (e.g., the Pensioners' Party in 2006) it is attracting votes from Israelis unhappy with the conventional faces. And like Pensioners and other parties that have leaped from nothing to something, the current lineup of Jewish Home may bring some problems. One of its people likely to enter the Knesset has had to explain away comments that Israel be governed by Jewish religious law. Depending on which rabbis would be chosen for the Sanhedrin, that could push Israel far in the direction of Saudi Arabia. Naftali Benet, the virtually unknown head of Jewish Home, had to squirm out of comments saying that he would not obey military orders to remove Jewish settlers from any home. Even if some of the wilder ideas associated with Jewish Home remain hypothetical, its Knesset delegation is likely to join several members of Likud in pushing for the explicit annexation of areas in the West Bank. This is something Israel has not done since expanding the boundaries of Jerusalem in 1967. Even the proposal would assure nasty remarks from the international media and Israel's allies.
Yair Lapid is another newcomer. His party, There is a Future, has been polling in the range of 9-11 Knesset seats, and is the most likely of the centrist parties to join a Netanyahu government. Lapid has said that he would not be a fig leaf for a right wing government, saying but not in absolute terms with no wiggle room that he would not accept an invitation to join. His campaign for votes has been an amorphous spiel in behalf of Israel's middle class, demanding a greater sharing of benefits and reducing the privileges of the Haredim. He would be useful for Netanyahu's efforts to be the ruler of all Israel--or at least all of its Jews--without bothering Netanyahu with the more radical, socialist sounding demands of Shelli Yehimovich and colleagues even further to the left in Labor.
Those looking for a breakthrough to peace seem destined for frustration. Tsipi Livni is the one prominent candidate pitching credentials as a peace maker, and her party has been polling at the bottom of the center-left cluster.
The Palestinians are as restive as usual alongside the failure of Israeli politicians to compete with proposals about the road to peace. There has been an increase in the incidence of violence in the West Bank, along with marches by armed and masked men in the streets of West Bank cities who shoot into the air in protest against the unaggressive regime of Mahmoud Abbas. There have also been Israeli incursions to nab individuals who seem intent on beginning another intifada.
A report of Abbas' speech marking the anniversary of his party's founding suggests that he is trying to appear steadfast with nonnegotiable demands. He avoided mention of compromise with Israel, and said that it was necessary for Palestinians to continue the struggle in behalf of "the dream of return" of the Palestinian refugees and millions of their descendants. He had good words to say about the the Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, who fled the British and spent World War II in alliance with the Nazis, as well as for a number of Palestinians who Israel holds responsible for killing civilians.
There are Jewish voices blaming Israel for failing to find the key to accommodation with the Palestinians. One man writing from New York and not having apparent influence on the Israeli electorate says
"it is about time for the 'Arab Spring' to reach the Israeli shores. It is time for the Israelis to rid themselves of the bondage of occupation and be free again. It is time to stop zealots and messianic leadership from gradually bringing Israel to the brink of national disaster. Israelis can no longer remain complacent in the face of their country's growing isolation and the mounting danger of forsaking the prospect of a two-state solution, which remains the only viable option to save Israel as a democratic Jewish state. It is time for the Israelis to rise up before it is too late and demand an end to the conflict with the Palestinians."
Some are fearful of the Obama-Hegel-Kerry triumvirate. Jewish organizations are mobilized at full voice against Hegel's confirmation, reminding us by their hyperbole that Israel may have as many problems with the Jewish lobby as the United States.
Whatever happens in terms of personnel, the American administration will be busy for some time with domestic economic challenges, and Syria should continue to discourage any naive feelings associated with Arab spring.
Hopefully Palestinians enjoying the relative quiet and prosperity of the West Bank will be able to calm those who are always anxious to pursue their historic rights by all means. Hopefully, too, Netanyahu will calm his party colleagues and others in his government who want to affirm their expansive views of Jewish rights.
More of the same needn't be worse, even if it does not promise to be a whole lot better.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem