Political Animal


January 23, 2013 10:13 AM Don’t Project U.S. Anxieties Into Israeli Election Results

By Ed Kilgore

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 is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • c u n d gulag on January 23, 2013 10:54 AM:

    Yes, I know Israel is our strongest and most stable ally in the Middle East - but, having said that, I'm tired of the Israeli tail, wagging the American dog.

    If Bibi's itching for a fight with his neighbors, like, say, Iran? Well, I say let him have his fight.

    The US needs to make it clear to Israel, and to the whole Middle East, that we are for peace in the Middle East - finally. And that we are an independent actor from Israel, and they from us.
    Israel is a soveriegn nation, and, as such, has the right to do what it feels it needs to do to defend itself.

    We can still support them - to a point.

    If Israel is determined to turn itself into an apartheid nation, while waving sabers as its neighbors, and rejects peace, well, that's when we stop financial and political support.

    America's energy independence will go a long way toward peace in the Middle East.
    We have had our noses in that regions business since WWI, and it has cost us untold amounts of blood and treasure.
    Other sovereign nations don't like their internal politics being meddled with, or determined, by Washington.
    And they don't like the military support we have there, to keep the flow of oil coming in our direction.
    And they don't like our, mostly unquestioning support of Israel.
    Now, is the time we need to question it.

    The "Two-state" solution is both practical, and achievable - as long as Israel understands that our continued support depends on them continuing to reach in that direction.

    Us, bombing Iran for the sake of Israel, or being involved WITH Israel in any bombing, will be a catastrophe that will make Bush's epic mis-adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq, look like a day at the beach.

    I await the heat I'll get for writing this.
    I'll be out for a little while, trying with a friend of mine to see if I can somehow or other get my car started, so if anyone wants to blast me, I won't be able to respond for a few hours.

  • rrk1 on January 23, 2013 11:37 AM:

    I commend you, Cund, for saying what should be obvious to Americans. Israel is not our friend anymore, if it ever was. Israel is interested in Israel, i.e., territory, money and regional power. End of discussion.

    The Palestinians have been screwed for decades, and these election results aren't going to change much unless Yahoo decides to go further right. The settler movement is a great threat to Israel's continued existence, and forming a coalition with it will hasten the day of Israel's reckoning with reality. Not unlike the absolutists in the GOP, the settlers prefer their own bubble, and deny any sense of morality other than their own.

    Gone are the days of the Cold War when Israel was an outpost of Western influence in the volatile Middle East. We no longer need Israel as one of the defensive legs against communism. If anything Israel hinders any solution to regional problems, and keeps the bogus war on terror from terminating. Until the Palestinian issue is settled in a credible two state solution - even if that has to be imposed on Israel by the international community - the irritant of occupation will inflame Muslims everywhere and provide an endless source of manpower for jihad.

    No American president has been as forceful, and I use the term advisedly, in speaking out against Israeli settlement policy as Obama. Bush I tried, and was beaten back by AIPAC and that ilk. Bush II let Israel do anything it wanted. Clinton tried to make peace, but couldn't At least he tried. Israel is used to controlling American presidents, and Obama has to be recognized for his courageous efforts, even when Yahoo and Company give him the finger in return. Let us hope Hagel and Kerry provide some fingers of their own.

    Until we turn off the money faucet, and tell Yahoo he's on his own with Iran (which I would like to think has already happened in private ), we are a satellite of Tel-aviv and not the other way around. Fortunately, eyes are beginning to open here, and Obama shouldn't let up. Yahoo deserves a lot of payback for overreaching in our elections.

  • zandru on January 23, 2013 12:12 PM:

    Bravo, Mr. Gulag and rrk1.

    Israel used to get unwonted credit as "the only democracy in the Middle East." This is no longer true, in both a positive and negative sense.

    Democracies have emerged in Egypt, Libya, Iraq, Lebanon, ... and more are on the way. Even Iran is nominally a democracy and has been since the Shah was overthrown.

    Meanwhile, how can anyone possibly claim that Israel is "a democracy" when some 4 million of its people - the Palestinians who are exiled on land that Israel CLAIMS is part of Israel's territory - cannot vote, and who have no rights at all?

    It's simple: if this disputed land belongs to Israel, then the folks living on it are Israeli citizens, entitled to all rights, privileges, and protections from the Israeli government. If these rights are not being granted, then the land does not belong to the state of Israel, and it's time they withdrew to the pre-1967 borders.

  • Rodolfo on January 23, 2013 12:43 PM:

    I have no anxieties about Israel's election. They have to live with the results, not us. Just don't tell me that there's not enough money for us, but money for them cannot even be questioned

  • j on January 23, 2013 1:23 PM:

    Rodolfo - I agree with you, I understand all Israelis have health insurance, why do we continue to give them aid when we cannot give health care to our own citizens. At the same time Netanyahu continues to call the shots with us, why do we continue to cave?

  • Doug on January 23, 2013 4:49 PM:

    I fully agree with 'gulag that there is absolutely no reason for our UNCONDITIONAL support of Israel and I definitely want us to be less dependent on foreign energy supplies. I also agree with rrk1's assertion that the Palestinians have been screwed over since the beginning. I would, however, remind rrk1 and everyone else that the among the very first of those "screwing over" the Palestinians included their very own leaders, starting with the Mufti of Jerusalem, who instituted a reign of terror in the 1920/30s that decimated the ranks of those Palestinian Arabs who wished to create a viable, democratic Arab/Jewish Palestine. The contempt and fear that some of the Arab elite have for their own people has played a part in this mess that is too often ignored.
    Unless one thinks that all the Jews in Palestine should have been deported in 1948, one has to recognize that much of what has happened since then in Israel has been in response to what has, and has not, happened in those countries surrounding it. Has any Arab country other than Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel? Or even acknowledged Israel's right to exist? Has Hamas?
    Then there's the question of what gave the various leaders in Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and other Arab countries the right to meddle in the affairs of Palestine? Which is something they most definitely did, beginning by at least the late 1940s, and which they continue to do so up to the present day.
    War between the Arabs and Jews in Palestine was started by the Arabs in 1948 and has, except for the Egyptian treaty, continued to the present day. Which undoubtedly is one of the reasons a large number of Israeli citizens voted for Netanyahu and his party.
    I have hope that the Israeli elections will ease some of the tensions, but until ALL those countries surrounding Israel acknowledge its' right to exist, I won't expect anything more. Which means those often crying the loudest about the plight of the Palestinians are the ones most directly ensuring that plight continues.
    Strange that. It's almost as if they really don't care...

  • Tom from Greenpoint on January 24, 2013 11:28 AM:

    Are the issues of housing, the economy and subsidies and privileges for Haredim not indirectly related to the issue of the Occupation? Could it be that the political dynamic in the recent election was not that voters are not concerned about the Palestinian issue, but rather that there are tactical political negatives to leading with the issue at this time?