London, Asharq Al-Awsat—One thing that the Israeli election results for the 19th Knesset confirms is that the policy of a new coalition government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be completely different than that of his previous government, including on the domestic front. This also opens the door to the peace process and negotiations with the Palestinians during Netanyahu’s second term in office, whereas this issue had been a non-starter during his first term.
The results of the general elections for the 19th Knesset were unexpected and not in the favor of Netanyahu and his allies, namely the Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home) alliance and his foreign and deputy prime minister and Avigdor Lieberman. The Israeli electorate expressed, although not overwhelmingly, its dissatisfaction with the policies of this government over the past 4 years. These elections saw this bloc’s power being eroded from 42 Knesset seats to just 31 seats. Despite this, it remains the largest parliamentary bloc. In addition to this, Israel’s right-wing forces were also weakened from 67 seats to 61 seats.
Although this small majority grants Netanyahu the right to form a right-wing government that opposes the peace process with the Palestinians, this would not be the government that Netanyahu and his allies-who moved up the election by 10 months-had hoped to form. They had expected to win in a landslide as indicated by opinion polls at the time, and then use this new mandate to confront any pressure from abroad, including the expected pressure from US President Barack Obama in his second and final term in office.
Netanyahu already appears to be in the process of working to form a coalition government, contacting various parties with the objective of forming a strong coalition despite the fact that he has yet to be officially tasked to do so by President Shimon Peres. A coalition of right-wing parties is unlikely; particularly as such a coalition would be weak and could be toppled at the first crisis. This would also increase Israel’s international isolation and even result in economic sanctions. It is almost certain that Netanyahu-known for his political opportunism and for being more concerned about his personal ambitions than the national interest-will completely discount this scenario. This is because everybody predicts that a government coalition such as this will not remain in power for long and the Israeli electorate will ultimately return to the ballot boxes, while the results of a subsequent election are completely unknown. Therefore Netanyahu’s first call following the announcement of the election results was to Yair Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party which came in second place winning 19 Knesset seats, surpassing the Labor party which won 15 seats.
This opens the door to the second scenario for a coalition government which is far more realistic. This would see the Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu alliance being joined by the three centrist parties, namely Yesh Atid, Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah (The Movement) party (6 seats), and the Kadima party led by Shaul Mofaz (2 seats), perhaps in addition to the ultra-Orthodox Shas party (11 seats). This government would rely on a stable parliamentary base of 69 Knesset members. While the three centrist parties-Yesh Atid, Hatnuah and Kadima-would place the peace process as a prerequisite to joining any government coalition. In fact, the Yesh Atid party views the peace process as one of the four red-lines for joining any government coalition. This also includes relations with the US, which have deteriorated during the previous years of Netanyahu’s government. Following the Israeli elections, the US was the first to call for Israel-following a long absence-to work to initiate the peace process and resume negotiations. This was viewed as foreign interference in Israeli politics and the government formation process.
This scenario is a possibility because Netanyahu did not just contact Lapid, but personally met with him and reportedly made him a lucrative offer. This was the same deal that Netanyahu offered Lieberman when forming the previous government, namely the position of foreign and deputy prime minister. While reports indicate that Netanyahu may also have offered Lapid the post of finance minister.
As for the third scenario, this would see a coalition base of 70 Knesset members, which is also a strong possibility.
This coalition government would make domestic issues their priority, placing the peace process on the back-burner. This would be a coalition made up of the left-wing and centrist parties, in addition to the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home party, known as the party of the settlers. However such a coalition would not include the ultra-religious parties such as the Shas and the United Torah Judaism party (7 seats) owing to a disagreement over the demands of Yesh Atid. The Yesh Atid party wants to enact a universal draft law, making it compulsory for Jewish and Arab Israel youth-regardless of religious affiliation-to carry out military or civil service.
There are many possibilities, however what is certain is that the situation in Israel has changed, although the decision remains in Netanyahu’s hands.