Foreign Policy / Israel

Elections in Israel: What now?

Tuesday’s election in Israel confirmed what we already knew. Bibi Netanyahu is not as strong and as powerful as we had thought. Israelis still want a strong Israel, but with focus on domestic and not the international issues.

The way Israel’s democratic system functions is through a coalition government. The President is the Head of State but the Prime Minister is head of the Executive Branch. Israel’s Knesset, or House of Representatives, is equivalent to our Congress where the election system is based on proportional representation by the entire voting constituency of Israel. During elections, every party running presents a list of candidates and the number of candidates entering the House of Representatives is proportional to the percentage of support the list receives. There are 120 seats total.

Since voters cast only one ballot for a political party, coalitions must be formed to determine who will be Prime Minister, if no one party wins a clear majority.

No party has won a clear majority since the country’s inception in 1948, and that trend continued this week. Now, the state is more divided than ever and each head of party must create a coalition of smaller party members. The winner will be Prime Minister.

Thus far, Bibi Netanyahu’s party, Likud-Beitenu, having won 31 seats, has the best chance.. No one will be surprised if Bibi Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman lead. The newly formed Yesh Atid party, led by Yair Lapid, won 19 seats. Meretz doubled its previous three to six seats and the Labor Party won 17, an increase from the last election. Jewish Home, the right-wing party led by Naftali Bennet, won 11.

But Bibi’s coalition could take a Right turn. Ideologically he may fit into that camp, but internationally, he may isolate many, including the United States.

The Peace Process may not have a chance of reemerging if Bibi decides to form a more Right wing coalition. If, however, Bibi attempts a more moderate approach, he can address many national concerns and work more effectively through compromise with the Center-Left. But even though Bibi is losing political clout, his hawkish policies will only be slightly softened.

Israel’s domestic situation, like the rest of the Middle East is changing. Elections on the heels of Operation Pillar of Defense left many asking what it was all for and if it was worth it. Many seek new and alternate policies.

What the election teaches us about Israel’s domestic paradigms is that they want to focus on Israel. Domestic policies were the main priority during the election, confirmed by election promises. Lapid’s slogans included “Everyone will serve the state,” “Our children will be able to buy apartments,” and “We’ll pay less for gasoline and electricity.”

Israelis are grappling with ways to deal with Iran, the West Bank, building new settlements, and the Ultra-Orthodox serving in the military. Like Americans, Israelis want to focus on nation building at home. They too are worried about the socio-economic situation, about jobs and social welfare. And yes, they are worried about their security vis-à-vis Iran and Gaza, but they are also worried about better education opportunities and the cost of living.

If this election teaches us anything, it’s that Israel will be introspective and introverted, trying to solve domestic dilemmas, especially about what it means to be living in Israel. All we can do now, is sit and wait for the coalitions to be formed.

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