On February 10, Israelis went to the polls to elect the 120 members of the Knesset from among 34 parties running in the election. Although the centrist Kadima Party, led by Tzipi Livni, took the most seats of any party at 28 and leads the rightist Likud by a single seat, it is unlikely that Livni will be able to form a government, which requires a coalition represented by at least 61 seats. Instead, it seems likely that the responsibility of forming a government will fall to Benjamin Netanyahu and a coalition of right-wing parties.
Yet despite the hawkish attitudes so widespread in the rightist parties, the latest election will not result in a sudden escalation of violence nor does it represent a desire for the greater use of military force among Israelis.
To begin with, the number of parties gaining seats in the Knesset means that many differing viewpoints will be represented. The party that won the third-highest number of seats is Yisrael Beytenu with 15, which supports a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine and whose support will be crucial to the formation of a coalition government. In 2005, this party campaigned to transfer control of majority Arab lands from Israel to the Palestinian Authority in exchange for official Israeli control of the more populous settlements. Sure, this proposal wasn’t exactly what either side wanted — and it failed — but it was an attempt at a compromise. More than that, it represented a better deal for the Palestinians, who in the past have received nothing in return for land taken for the construction of settlements, and it demonstrated Beytenu’s support of negotiations.
And now Beytenu is expected to play a key role in the new government. Even on issues of domestic importance to secular Israelis, their participation will play a role toward curbing the influence of the Ultra-Orthodox parties such as the Sephardi SHAS (winning 11 seats and expected to be part of the right-wing coalition) which in the past has promoted the banning of numerous activities during the Shabat in accordance with orthodox Jewish tradition, and which promotes the greater disbursement of welfare, particularly to students at religious universities.
And then there is Likud itself. In 2000, then-Likud leader Ariel Sharon touched off the second Intifada, a nearly six-year Palestinian uprising, by going for prayers at a mosque complex. However, in the following years, Sharon abandoned the idea of “Greater Israel”, in which Israel would retain complete control of the West Bank and Gaza. It was also Sharon who pushed through the “unilateral disengagement” which resulted in the evacuation of 21 settlements in Gaza, and four in the West Bank. Of course, it was this action that caused Kadima to split off from Likud in the first place. And in the years since the Six-Day War of 1967, the various Likud governments have relinquished nearly 90 percent of the lands taken during that conflict.
There has also been talk of a coalition government led by Netanyahu, but including Kadima members, with possible Kadima appointments as Ministers of Defense and Foreign Affairs. The inclusion of Kadima would serve to moderate the policies of the new government, even if the government as a whole would have a right-of-center leaning.
And this does not even consider a potential role for the leftist Labor party. Although it is unclear what role, if any, it will play, with 13 seats in the Knesset, there is a chance (though slim) that they will be included in a compromise.
At the end of the day, the results of the election do not show a rejection of peace. Granted, in the wake of the recent conflict, increased support for the right is expected though the spread in the allotment of votes argues against a widespread desire for an ultra hard-line stance with respect to Palestine. Even the right-wing parties elected have, in the past, shown an ability to reach compromise, and those that are centrist or left of center still account for a large percentage of the total number of seats.
Most reassuring of all, the only two parties that continue to support the idea of a “Greater Israel,” which is in direct opposition to a two-state solution, managed to take a total of only seven seats.
— Ibrahim Kakwan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.