Don’t Project U.S. Anxieties Into Israeli Election Results

Like a lot of people quickly reacting to the somewhat surprising Israeli election results yesterday, I noted that one possible governing coalition partner of Bibi Netanyahu, Yair Lapid of the centrist Yesh Atid party, favored a resumption of negotiations with Palestinians, while another, Naftali Bennett of the settler-based Bayit Yehudi, favored an even harder line than Bibi’s.

That’s all true. But I wouldn’t want to give the impression that Israeli-Palestinian affairs, so important to most U.S. impressions of Israeli politics, were really that central to the election. The very successful Lapid heavily focused on his party’s effort to restrict privileges the ultra-Orthodox have secured over the years, mainly through serving as an electoral tie-breaker. And the Labor Party, which made some significant gains, campaigned almost exclusively on the economy.

As Ben Birnbaum noted in his analysis of the elections for TNR:

These were the first Israeli elections since the 1967 Six-Day War in which Israel’s conflict with its Arab neighbors (and with the Palestinians in particular) did not figure prominently in the public debate. While the relatively strong showing of the center-left parties is good news for potential concessions on the peace front, it’s worth noting that the only two parties that emphasized the issue—Meretz and [Tzipi] Livonia’s Movement—won a combined 14 of the Knesset’s 120 seats.

Whatever else it was, and whatever else it might portend for Middle Eastern peace, this election was by no means a referendum on Netanyahu’s handling of relations with Israel’s Arab and Persian neighbors, much as many Americans might have wanted it to be.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.