The aftermath of the recent elections in Israel has left the nation with the prospect of being governed by their most hardline administration in years. Mr Netanyahu, the leader of the right-wing Likud party, will return to office flanked by a fractious coalition of nationalist and religious parties united only by a shared hostility to compromise with the Palestinians.
Likud finished a close second to centrist party Kadima in the general election of 10th February. But the vote saw the right-wing parties finish with an overall majority, of 65 seats, compared to 44 for the leftist parties. Netanyahu’s next task is to build a coalition to form the new government. The right-wing hardline parties, whose support enabled Netanyahu to be appointed, are in pole position.
Ranged to the right of his own Likud formation Netanyahu has a variety of parties including the Russian immigrant-backed Yisrael Beiteinu; orthodox Jewish religious parties like Shas; and the ultra-nationalist splinter formations from the break-up of the National Religious Party. These together could give him a majority in the 120-seat Knesset, or parliament.
But what would a government of the right and ultra-right be formed to do? It clearly would not be there to make concessions to the Palestinians. There would be strong pressures from within such a coalition to go full steam ahead on settlement-building on the West Bank. He would first, of course, have to reconcile Shas with the stridently secular Yisrael Beiteinu.
There have been moves by Netanyahu to bring some of the more centrist parties and build a broad-based coalition. This is clearly what the Israeli President Shimon Peres would prefer. Throughout Feburary, Peres and Netanyahu have been enagaged in negotiations with Kadima and the Labor Party, in regards to forming a government coalition.
The centre-left Labor Party, like Kadima, champions the establishment of a Palestinian state, and Barak has said he would take Labour into the opposition. Other senior Labour officials have said they would not serve in a coalition with Yisrael Beiteinu because of its extremist views. Livni, the head of Kadima, has also ruled out participating in the Netanyahu government.
“I will not be able to serve as a cover for a lack of direction. I want to lead Israel in a way I believe in, to advance a peace process based on two states for two peoples,” Livni said.
In recent days Netanyahu has turned his attention to the assortment of right-wing parties, the people to whom he owes his second crack at the premiership. He has invited Yisrael Beiteinu and other right-wing factions for talks.
A crucial figure in the post-election deal-making is Avigdor Lieberman. His Yisrael Beiteinu party represents the interests of the one million Russian speakers in Israel and finished third in the polls, allowing him the role of “kingmaker” in the balance of parliamentary power. Their aims include crushing Hamas, re-drawing Israel’s borders to place heavy concentrations of Israeli Arabs under Palestinian jurisdiction, and requiring those Arabs who remained to sign a loyalty oath or lose their citizenship rights.
Likud representatives are also to meet with counterparts from the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties, Habayit Hayehudi and the National Union. Shas and UTJ are prioritising their demand to build thousands of new housing units for the ultra-Orthodox. Both parties want the housing and construction portfolio, including control of the Israel Lands Administration, although Netanyahu has said he wants the land administration to become part of the Prime Minister’s Office.
With this type of government forming there is even less reason for Palestinians to entertain hopes that the occupation will end anytime soon of their land. This cycle of endless insanity in the Middle East only heightens tensions, and makes the prospects for peace even more remote.
The nationalist camp’s commitment to expanding West Bank settlements could put Israel at loggerheads with the US, the Jewish state’s main ally. President Barack Obama has vowed to make ending 60 years of conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people a priorirty. The nationalist and religious parties could both cause Netanyahu problems in the international arena if the US were to pressure him to make territorial concessions to the Palestinians.
Bringing moderates into a coalition would dilute the power of the nationalists who criticised the peace talks pursued by the outgoing centrist government. The centrist factions would produce a more stable government with international support than Netanyahu would probably get with a narrow coalition of conservatives who are beset by their own divisions.
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This post was written by Christopher Vasey