Donald Macintyre: It will be close, but Israel has lurched to the right

Share
Related Topics

Can the centre hold? The immediate question at the heart of tomorrow's Israeli election, is whether Tzipi Livni can wrest the prize from the reborn right-wing Likud under a man widely judged to have failed when he left office as prime minister a decade ago.

In a close election, the two serious contenders are now in a fight, less against each other, than to prevent potential supporters leaking to smaller satellite parties in each of their camps, the right in Benjamin Netanyahu's case and the centre and what remains of the centre-left in Ms Livni's.

This is a fight, essentially, to beat Israel's own proportional electoral system, a system which allows smaller parties to flourish and gives them disproportionate leverage in the uneasy coalitions that every Israeli leader has to put together. A system which has created the bizarre anomaly of the pro-cannabis legalisation party, Green Leaf, teaming up with the Holocaust Survivors in the hope that together they can pass the 2 per cent threshold needed for a Knesset seat. The system has helped the semi-fascist, Avigdor Lieberman, to be a potential kingmaker in the post-election formation of a government. And it means it is formidably difficult even for a politician of the strength and vision of the late Yitzhak Rabin to realise the peace aspirations shared by most Israelis at the time.



That said, what has been an odd campaign might have been very different, one in which ideological divisions might have been highlighted rather than almost buried. Ms Livni might have projected herself, Obama-style, as a visionary stateswoman seeking a mandate to break with a recent past in which war has been the default option.



True, that was made difficult by a bloody three-week military operation in Gaza, which Ms Livni enthusiastically supported. True, too, she has in recent days dared, belatedly, to use the rhetoric of peace, telling the annual Herzilya conference last week that "the dove is on the windowsill. We can either slam the door or let it in".



Yet she has done little to suggest practical ways in which the abject failures of the negotiating process with the moderate West Bank Palestinian leadership that started with such fanfare at Annapolis more than a year ago can be reversed. She has, for example, damned, with the sourest of praise, the Saudi-fostered peace initiative which offers pan-Arab recognition of Israel in return for two states negotiated on 1967 borders, a plan warmly praised by Barack Obama in his first interview as President. Ms Livni bleakly said in Herzilya that, unless Israel developed its own peace plan, it "would get the Arab initiative".



It isn't immediately clear whether this reflects Ms Livni's deepest instincts or her apprehension about the Israeli public's lurch to the right since the 2006 elections, or both. Given that rockets are still being launched from Gaza, albeit at a vastly lesser volume, it may be that many of the Israeli people share Mr Netanyahu's view that the war in Gaza was mistakenly ended without the Hamas regime being toppled. But this is, in turn, part of a much longer process of disillusionment, nurtured by the rise of Hamas and an increasingly entrenched belief that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is too weak to be a partner. It scarcely matters that Ariel Sharon's sidelining of Mr Abbas during the resolutely unilateral disengagement from Gaza in 2005 contributed to Hamas's electoral success a few months later.



Just as Ehud Barak successfully grafted into the Israeli DNA the idea that Yasser Arafat was exclusively to blame for the collapse of the Camp David talks in 2000, so too, Israeli public opinion has internalised the notion that its government generously left Gaza in 2005 only to suffer Hamas rocket attacks on civilians. In this context, most Israelis – while still ideally backing the notion of a two-state solution – see little chance of that happening in any foreseeable future.



It isn't even certain that the rumoured large-scale prisoner exchange for the abducted Corporal Gilad Shalit as part of a ceasefire package that would open the Gaza crossings, would help the centre and left rather than the right. But there is only a slim chance of this happening before the election.



The most hopeful sign from the polls is that most Israelis want Mr Netanyahu, if he wins, to form a broad coalition with Kadima and Labour rather than a narrow one with Mr Lieberman and the right-wing religious parties. Then, he could just be more susceptible to pressure from an Obama administration determined to bring the conflict to an end. But this is a scarcely bankable prospect. For all Ms Livni's disappointingly minimalist approach, the White House would presumably rather put her aspirations for peace to the test than have to work with Mr Netanyahu.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Lawyer - Cheshire

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CHESHIRE MARKET TOWN - An exciting and rare o...

Austen Lloyd: Residential Property Solicitor - Hampshire

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE - SENIOR POSITION - An exciti...

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Engineer

£29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Engineer is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor

£28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor is req...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Michael Brown was shot and killed by police in August  

Ferguson: The sad truth is that Michael Brown was killed because he was a black man

Bonnie Greer
A protestor poses for a  

Ferguson verdict: This isn't a 'tragedy'. This is part of a long-running genocide of black men in America

Otamere Guobadia
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital
In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran