Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement at his office in Jerusalem, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013. A weakened Netanyahu scrambled Wednesday to keep his job by extending his hand to a new centrist party that advocates a more earnest push on peacemaking with the Palestinians and whose surprisingly strong showing broadsided him with a stunning election deadlock. (AP Photo/Darren Whiteside, Pool)
Updated: February 26, 2013 6:29AM
The Israeli elections this week, the perceived rebuke to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the rise of a new political figure to national and international stature in Yair Lapid, the nudge toward the center in the voting results, and the weeks ahead of bargaining by Netanyahu to form a coalition government will occasion another round of speculation about what all this means for the future of Palestinian-Israel relations and the hopes for a negotiated settlement. Well, keep in mind that all of the above didn’t change this central fact: Israel has no partner for peace with the Palestinians or in the wider Arab world.
That central reality was behind one of the most remarked-on aspects of the Israeli election politicking — how little foreign policy issues figured in the debate. After more than a decade of false hopes, generous peace offers rejected by the Palestinians and a bloody terror war that killed more than 1,000 Israelis and maimed many more, Israeli politics have tilted domestic. The candidate who placed the highest priority on resuming negotiations with the Palestinians, former foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, finished far back in the field with her party getting only about half a dozen seats in the Knesset.
By all accounts, the election revolved around domestic worries like the high cost of apartment rental and social controversies such as the exemption of ultra-Orthodox Jews from military service. Requiring ultra-Orthodox Jews to serve in the military and resolving pocketbook issues were key planks of the platform advanced by Lapid and his Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party.
On foreign policy issues, there appears to be not a lot of daylight between Netanyahu and Lapid. Lapid is a proponent of a two-state solution, as is the prime minister, though it must be acknowledged skepticism persists about the depth of Netanyahu’s commitment to it. Lapid says he wants to return to negotiations. Still, this new star in the Israeli political constellation has no illusions about the central fact of life. “I don’t think the Arabs want peace,” he says. Another quote: Israel “must get rid of the Palestinians and put a fence between us.”
The Jerusalem Post noted that Lapid chose to make a major foreign policy speech last fall in the West Bank community of Ariel to underscore his position that major “settlements” in the disputed territories must be part of Israel in any resolution of the conflict. His characterization of a negotiated peace in that speech: “We’re not looking for a happy marriage with the Palestinians, but for a divorce agreement we can live with.”
His party’s strong second-place finish in Tuesday’s voting sparked speculation he might get a top spot like the foreign ministry.
Lapid’s suspicions about the Arab world’s hostility to peace are rooted in reality as demonstrated by newly revealed comments Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi made in 2010. He called Jews “bloodsuckers who attack Palestinians” and “the descendents of apes and pigs.” When he was asked about those statements by visiting U.S. senators, Morsi responded with the anti-Semitic libel of the U.S. media being “controlled by certain forces,” according to an account of the meeting by Foreign Policy magazine.
Maybe a new coalition will lead to a renewed effort to try to entice Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas back to the negotiating table. But don’t be surprised if any such effort crashes on the rock-hard reality of Arab intransigence against peace.