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Israeli Election Results Increase Chances For Peace, But For Reasons You Might Not Expect

As expected, results from Israel’s parliamentary elections Tuesday will extend Benjamin Netanyahu’s tenure as prime minister. While the exact outcome differed somewhat from expectations, the prospects for peace have been bolstered with Netanyahu’s continued leadership.

The Knesset, Israel’s parliament, is composed of 120 members from numerous political parties. Unlike here in the United States, a single political party has never captured a majority of seats in the Knesset. In order to accomplish policy objectives, multiple political parties must unite together to gain a majority of the body.

Prior to the election, Netanyahu’s center-right Likud party formed an alliance with the nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party (Israel our Home). Polls predicted this alliance to win between 35 and 42 seats out of 120 total. Combined with other right-wing parties, Netanyahu’s coalition expected to capture between 62 and 68 seats out of the Knesset.

The actual election did not exactly mirror the predictions. For instance, the Likud/Yisrael Beiteinu alliance captured just 31 seats. This weaker than expected performance induced many pundits to suggest that (1) the center-right would barely cling to power, (2) that the “hard-liners” would now be forced to make significant territorial concessions to a future Palestinian state, and (3) that such concessions are viewed by many of these pundits as requisite to peace. All three conclusions are incorrect.

The center-right political parties will maintain strong control of the Knesset. Conventional wisdom remains focused on the underperformance of Netanyahu’s Likud/Yisrael Beiteinu alliance and on the outperformance of the Yesh Atid party. Yesh Atid, just one year old, won 19 seats — between 2 and 7 more than expected. Many journalists classify Yesh Atid as center-left.

However, this analysis is incorrect. On matters of settlement expansion in the West Bank, Yesh Atid aligns more with the center-right policy stances than with the left-wing parties. For instance, the leader of the party, Yair Lapid, favors Israeli control of East Jerusalem, and the party promotes maintenance of large settlement blocks within the West Bank. Furthermore, the truly left-wing party, Labor, lost seats to the more conservative Yair Lapid and will hold just 15 seats in the new government. The coalition favorable to settlement expansion  will actually total at least 72 seats out of 120 once Yesh Atid (pro-settlement secularist), Shas (ultra-orthodox), and HaBayit HaYehudi (religious Zionists) are factored into the equation. A strong majority within the Knesset, at least 60%, will support continued settlement expansion and large settlement blocks.  

Contrary to the assertions of certain pundits, a Knesset favorable to settlement expansion is not a roadblock to peace. Steadfastly defending the right for “settlers” to enjoy life, liberty, and property free from harassment advances the cause of true peace. In the civilized world, peace does not entail being forced from one’s ancestral homeland, living in isolated neighborhoods, being irrationally prohibited from expanding one’s home, or enduring countless terrorist attacks. Israelis, both settlers and non-settlers, continue to show a commitment to peaceful co-existence with neighbors. Israel continually demonstrates this commitment within the internationally accepted boundaries of Israel, within the West Bank, and also in relation to neighboring countries.

Let’s hope that the response of the Palestinian Authority to the exercise of Israeli settlement rights is one of respect. Such a response would ensure greater prosperity, security, and tranquility for both Israelis and Palestinians. 

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