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Israelis Vote As Hopes For Renewed Peace Process Remain Dim

The silhouette of an ultra-Orthodox Jew at a convention with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) in Netanya, Israel, on January 13.
The silhouette of an ultra-Orthodox Jew at a convention with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) in Netanya, Israel, on January 13.
By Kayvan Hosseini and Robert Coalson
The economy and Iran's disputed nuclear program were the key issues on the agenda as Israeli voters went to the polls on January 22.
 
After a meeting in Jerusalem last week with a delegation of U.S. senators, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed that Iran's nuclear program is "the main mission" that Israel faces.
 
"Last night I met with five [U.S.] senators -- Democrats and Republican -- and I told them that the problem is not [Jewish settlement] construction in Ariel and the problem is not building in Jerusalem," Netanyahu said.
 
"The problem in the Middle East is Iran's attempt to build nuclear weapons, the chemical weapons in Syria, and the Islamic radicalism spreading in Africa, threatening to sweep the entire region."
 
Economic Concerns

Opinion polls showed, however, that the economy ranked even higher among voter concerns than Iran or the Palestinian question. The country's 2012 budget deficit was twice what had been projected, raising the likelihood of stern austerity measures in the near future.

Polls showed that Netanyahu was expected to emerge once again in the strongest position, but the balance among his coalition partners would likely be significantly shifted.

Netanyahu's center-right Likud-Beteinu faction was poised to take about 35 of the 120 Knesset seats that were at stake. The center-left Labor Party was polling second, with an estimated 16-18 seats.

The ultranationalist Jewish Home party of Naftali Bennett was the surprise of the campaign. The charismatic, energetic Bennett, 40, has been described as the new "rock star" of Israeli politics. By targeting the youth vote and voters from the former Soviet Union, he raised his party's profile considerably.

Jewish Home seemed poised to quadruple the three seats it currently holds in the legislature, with most of its added support having been stripped away from Likud-Beteinu.

Bennett's rise could complicate the prospects for progress in relations with the Palestinians. He had been cheered on the campaign trail when telling supporters he would do everything he could to prevent the emergence of a Palestinian state "within the Land of Israel."

If Jewish Home polls as well as predicted, Bennett could be an essential partner in Netanyahu's coalition, and he could insist on a high-profile cabinet post. That could present a serious roadblock to any movement to restart the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
 
Raphael Israeli, a professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said that although Netanyahu said he supported the two-state solution with the Palestinians, a resurgent right could make negotiations on that basis nearly impossible.

Likewise, Saeb Erekat, a former chief Palestinian negotiator with Israel, was also pessimistic that this week's elections would advance the peace process.
 
"The current government has chosen dictation rather than negotiation, settlements and not peace. So, any future coalition government after the elections that would continue the path of dictation and settlements would mean the destruction of the two-state solution," Erekat said.
 
"And we hope the Israeli people will make the choice for peace. But, having said that, we really wish to make peace with all Israelis and not with this party or that party in Israel."

'Mistrust'

In addition, faced with the daily concerns of a sputtering economy and the possibility of an existential conflict with Iran, Israeli voters have placed little emphasis on the seemingly intractable Palestinian question, said Ido Zelkovitz, a lecturer at the University of Haifa.

"The Israeli public is very, very tired from the Palestinian issue. If you look at public opinion, there is an understanding among Israelis that there is no other solution but the two-state solution. And I think the majority of Israelis want to get divorced from the Palestinians," Zelkovitz said.
 
"But, on the other hand, there is also a sense they are disappointed [with] the Palestinian partners and there is mistrust of Palestinians by and large. So that's the reason that the Palestinian issue is not taking a major place in the Israeli discourse."

Palestinians, likewise, were not looking to the Israeli elections with hope, said Daoud Kuttab, a U.S.-based journalism professor who observed the election campaign from the West Bank.

"There is a lot of apathy about the Israeli elections. Palestinians don't see really any difference in the different parties. In fact, many of the leading parties don't even have any peace platform; they don't even address the political issue," Kuttab said.

"They only address social and economic issues. And, of course, the leading parties are very right-wing, Zionist parties that [support] some form of the continuation of the occupation of Palestine."

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP

Robert Coalson

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Xira from: Austin
January 21, 2013 15:17
There is no hope for peace so long as the Israelis do not want peace.

Don't worry, China is going to pull the plug on Amerika soon, then they will have no choice.

by: LieutenantCharlie from: Ohio
January 21, 2013 15:22
Israel will never be safe as long as Dictator Obama is in the White House.

by: Anonymous
January 21, 2013 17:10
would like to read more about israel!

hope to see more research about culture and politics in the region.

rferl has at least some features about the "middle east".

there should be more articles about israel and lebanon!
- maybe even the united arab emirates and saudi arabia.

thank you in advance!

by: Anonymous
January 21, 2013 20:04
This is the worst report on the Israeli elections I've read so far.

by: RD
January 22, 2013 15:18
The Israeli PM is using Iran as an escape goat to mask the other problems of the country he does not have the will or capability to resolve (i.e. security, economy, inflation etc.). Iran may be ruled by dictatorial theocrats, but they are not idiots. They know any nuclear strike against Israel will mean their utter destruction. All the theocrats and dictators in Iran care about is plunddering their country's wealth. They don't want to do anything that will end the theft, such as a strike against Israel.

by: My Self from: Israel
January 23, 2013 08:49
I think people fail to understand the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. First, I would say, it is not Palestinian/Israeli conflict but Arab/Israeli conflict. The Palestinian/Israeli issue is only one aspect of the problem, or more like a continuation of the larger picture.
However, whenever there were peace talks we got terrorism. Since we don't have piece talks we don't have terrorism.
Which is why it is better NOT to have peace talks.
Also, The solution of 2 states for 2 Peoples is a trap we don't want to fall into, yes, for an Israeli state but no to a Palestinian one. Not because I don't think they deserve one, yes, they do and should get one in the future, but since it is very clear that a Palestinian state will focus on terror activities and on the destruction of Israel only, we can not have it.
When the Palestinians start acting responsibly, then they will have my blessing. But they are not acting like democrats, in Gaza for sure not and in the WB slightly better but far away from being OK, we should wait until they get a brain. And then we'll talk.
If France can attack the Islamists in Mali, Israel should do the same in Hamastan.

by: Ben
January 23, 2013 17:26
New president makes it possible to write the openly anti-Israel article,that for example is discussing the Israel- Iranian oppozition by the Iranian author.Pseudo-detailed description of the political situation make Israel guilty in the lack of the negotiations.In reality everybody knows that she stopped building for 9 months without Pals` talks decision,then they `ve broken Oslo egreement by entering UN. Desinformation if prolonged, can be poizonous for any media.

by: Anonymous
January 24, 2013 13:00
I don't like netanyahi very much. yair lapid reflects more responsibility. none the less, islamic radicalism is a menace. that is for sure.
not only for israel. for europe and north america, also.
hundreds of thousand of families who force their daughters to marry someone the don't want to marry, racism against jews, inferiority complex and megalomania vis-a-vis the western culture, hatred and disdain for all non-muslim women and muslim women who do not wear a head scarf.
no attitude of self-criticism, little ideas of responsibility be it in their home countries be it in the nations they immigrated to or their second and third generation lives, the perception of being a "chosen" people to conquer other societies.

just one example of advancement:

from 853 noble prizes roughly 15 went to muslim nations, 2/3rds of which are for peace and literature. nothing bad about that. but basically, 5-6 (2 in albania, 1 in egypt, 1 in bangladesh...) went to the nations for medicine and physics, chemistry.

that's 1 billion muslims with less than 17 nobel laureates, well let's say less than 19 laureates in the past.

remember albania, the only nation (composed of muslims and christians and atheists basically) was "communist" before.

so, some people should ask themselves some tough questions!

some should take responsibilty for their nations. all this bla bla about sharia, hadith quran, masajid here and there, madaris...look where it lead roughly 1 billion people.

besides: the problem is not israel. even in the quran it's stated that jews will return to israel, yet in some hadith and other passages it's acceptable to kill jews, christians, the unbelievers.

there are way to many passages that are contradictory, (regarding many fields). anyway, many muslims cannot read and write, many haven't read neither the quran nor the hadith. yet, almost all muslims even the secular ones get emotional when some subject is raised that tries to bring things into various perspectives.

message: muslims have to be more responsible, respect womens' rights, concentrate on other things than on blaming the west and israel and well some should forget the idea of islamizing the whole world. some consciousness for the real challenges would not be bad, either.

the more people know about certain sinister and vicious intentions and diabolic ideas the less people are willing to accept specific negative, racist and fascist ideas.

faith in allah though, rooted in tolerance, the desire for respect and the development of peace and human capacities to do good tu all human mankind is absolutely respectful (to all people in the world, I guess)!

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