The results of the latest parliamentary election in Israel look like a jumbled mess, but it’s just possible they reflect an interesting consensus on the next phase of Israeli relations with the Palestinian territories. At the moment that translates into almost no relations, leading to outright separation. But that might be the closest to stability that can be achieved just now.
Perhaps most significant, the Likud Party, which has governed Israel for much of the past 30 years and is headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, was reduced to 11 seats in the 120-member parliament, the Knesset. Likud is decimated in part because former prime minister Ariel Sharon, elected as a Likud leader and now in a coma after a stroke in January, left Likud four months ago to form the nominally centrist Kadima (Hebrew for “Forward”) Party. Under his deputy, Ehud Olmert, Kadima won 28 seats, less than the 45 that polls suggested it would win several weeks ago or the 35 it was expected to win a week ago. But that is the most seats of any of Israel’s 11 parties, so it will fall on Olmert to stay on as prime minister and build a coalition government.
Labor, which governed Israel from independence in 1948 through the late 1970s and has been the other major party, won 20 seats. The Orthodox religious party Shas won 13 seats, the nationalist party dominated by Russian immigrants, Israel Beitenu (Israel Is Our Home), won 12 seats.
Despite the jumble, most new Knesset members seem to endorse some variant of the new vision of security propounded by Sharon before he was felled — of a smaller, more defensible Israel that has chosen to separate itself from the Palestinians in much of the West Bank with an imposing wall.
Until the 1973 war most Israelis felt confident about handling any military threat from the Arab countries that surrounded them. Israel won that war, but it was difficult, and it shook many Israelis’ confidence. Likud believed that buffer zones in Arab territory were necessary, thus the campaign to build Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. Recently, however, Sharon, a lifelong soldier, began to view extended settlements as more vulnerable than defensible. Thus he ordered the evacuation of Israeli settlements in Gaza last year and announced plans to reduce and consolidate Israeli settlements on the West Bank.
This is hardly the “road map” pushed on Israelis and Palestinians by the United States and Europe. But with the militant Hamas having won electoral power in the Palestinian Authority, most Israelis seem to believe it is the best hope for establishing a probably uneasy but reasonably stable truce.