Africa and the Middle East

3 Israeli Post-Election Afterthoughts

March 19, 2015  • Michael (Mickey) Bergman

Photo Credit | iStock Photo

Photo Credit | iStock Photo

*This piece originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

This week’s elections in Israel brought on a roller coaster of emotions to many Israelis and American Jews. At the end of the day, the major blocks — right, left, and center — have maintained their relative strength, with a few seats swaying here and there.

However, inside each block, significant shifts in power occurred. And while final results are just in and coalition negotiations are just beginning, there are three factors to look at and think about.

1. Coalition Negotiations: There are two major pillars of policy issues in the coalition negotiations: foreign policy and security, i.e. Israeli-Arab conflict; and, socio-economic, i.e. cost of living.

Considering the composition of the new Parliament, it is likely that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will keep tight control over foreign policy and security issues. In the last days of the campaign, Netanyahu removed all ambiguity about his ideology with regards to these issues. It provided him a popular momentum that even he did not expect. The backing of the right-wing block will provide Netanyahu the confidence and stability he needs for that.

This leaves Netanyahu with the socio-economic issues to offer compromises and deals to coalition members. In his last administration, Netanyahu “outsourced” the Ministry of Finance to Yesh Atid Party leader Yair Lapid. This allowed Netanyahu to distance himself from the economic shortcomings and blame Lapid for those during the campaign. Netanyahu is likely to do a repeat of this maneuver, this time with Kulanu Party leader Moshe Kahlon.

2. Israeli Jews and Arabs: One of the most significant outcomes of these elections is the emergence of a United Arab List. This is not a unification of thought or ideology, rather an instinctual reaction to the increase to the threshold needed in order to enter the Parliament (which threatened the traditional Arab parties).

The united list created a momentum in the Israeli-Arab community that has not been there before. Instead of boycotting the elections, Arabs went to vote in similar rates to Jews, and in some places even greater rates. The Arab minority in Israel is about 20 percent. Mathematically, a United Arab List should have about 23 to 24 seats in Parliament. Well… they did not get that, but they are settling comfortably with 13 or 14 seats, as the 3rd largest party in the Knesset. While this doesn’t have much impact on government and power, it is symbolically very important. Israeli Jews are much more aware now of the significant power of this minority (for better or worse).

In addition, Netanyahu’s appearance on Election Day, “warning” Israelis that the Arabs are “voting in huge numbers,” illustrates the danger in the fear of Israeli Jews of the significant Arab minority.

The above trends, combined with the consolidation of a right-wing electoral win, might lead to a wave of legislation trying to curb Arab political participation, and risk some of the Democratic principles of the State, such as the “loyalty law,” the “nationality law,” and the “Supreme Court bypass law.”

3. US-Israeli Relations: It is not news that there is no love lost between President Barack Obama and Netanyahu. However, not enough has been said about the deeper tear in US-Israeli relations; a tear that goes much farther than the two heads of states’ personalities.

Two weeks ago, Netanyahu broke US protocol by the way he came to Washington, DC, to speak at Congress. Last week, Netanyahu accused the Obama Administration of funneling money through foundations in a concerted campaign to oust him. And three days ago, Netanyahu publically stated his absolute rejection of Palestinian Statehood, a long-standing US policy objective previously accepted by Netanyahu himself.

These latest actions and statements, combined with the last six years of ongoing crises between the two governments, have led to lasting imprints all through the diplomatic and civil servant ranks in both the Department of State and the Department of Defense.

Associating Israeli leadership with arrogance and negative ‘hutzpa’ is a mild way of expressing the sentiments heard inside these departments. These are not political appointees. These are career diplomats and civil servants. The ramifications of these tears can be devastating to the special alliance if not seriously and carefully addressed. It is difficult to see how the emerging new government can do that.

Mickey Bergman is the executive director of the Global Alliances Program at the Aspen Institute.