Sunday, January 25, 2009

First Polling in Israel

The first of this week's election polls are being broadcast by Israel's Channel One, and there is nothing to suggest that the electoral outcome on February 10 will significanly vary from the results that pre-war polls indicated. Binyamin Netanyahu's Likud party continues to lead with a projected 30 mandates (seats in the 120-seat Kenesset); Tzipi Livni's Kadima party is projected to receive 22 seats, and Ehud Barak's Labour is projecting 17 seats. Whatever improvement registered by Labour has simply come out of the hide of Kadima. On Tuesday the political parties will start broadcasting their political campaign ads (in Israel, the parties are granted free air time according to a complicated formula), and while these are always interesting to watch, they rarely shift voter sentiments.

If these new Channel One poll numbers are correct (and I have no reason to doubt them), it confirms the sense that the perpetual 20% of the Israeli electorate that might be lured to the left or to the right has swung decisively to the right for this election cycle. The next Israeli government, the one that President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, and Special Envoy George Mitchell will be dealing with, will be made up of a coalition of Likud, right-leaning and theocratically-oriented smaller parties, and Kadima (now as clear 2nd fiddle). The smaller right parties (and some of the more right-leaning Likud MKs) will effectively block any initiative proposed by the Americans. Netanyahu will be able to hide behind the democratic dynamics of coalition politics when he delivers his "no" to President Obama. Makes me think that maybe Obama initially offerred the job of Special Envoy to one of the State Department "old hands" (Dennis Ross, Martin Indyk, Dan Kurtzer). When they all realized that it would be Netanyahu that would be sitting in the Israeli PM chair, they all said (in unison): "Thanks, but no thanks. Let George do it!"

The good news? The political logjam that has crippled Israel these last 12 months because of Olmert's ongoing corruption problems is coming to an end. The bad news? Instead of political paralysis in Israel, there will be a highly infelexible and unresponsive (or, from a domestic perspective: a highly cautious and self-protective) Israeli leadership.

So what can the diplomatic triumvirate of Obama-Clinton-Mitchell expect? An ongoing internal Palestinian hatefest as the Fatah-Hamas rift festers with no resolution in sight; and on the Israeli side, a few months of coalition maneuvering until a feeble right-wing government emerges. This new Israel will be even more averse to talking to any Fatah-Hamas coalition government; whatever Palestinian leadership that engages with Israel will find Israel even more committed to deferring big decisions until its definition of security is obtained. Don't expect "change we can believe in" in the Arab-Israeli conflict anytime soon.

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