More questions than answers

Israel''s voters have done their job, and now can wait through a month or more while party politicians and media commentators fill the air with their talk of what is possible, what they want, and what they do not want.

Depending on what is between one''s ears or in back of one''s eyes, it is either a lot of blah blah to be ignored until we know the makeup of the new government, or the exciting stuff of what it is all about.

Only this week, 6 or so days after the election, the chair of the election commission will inform President Peres about the results. Then the old man will initiate conversations with the heads of 12 parties, asking their advice as to which of them has the best chance of forming a government.

Meanwhile, the present government continues to serve, constrained in large or small measure against major initiatives until replaced.

Bibi assumes it will be him, and has begun conversations with the party heads seen as possible partners.

Among what we are hearing

Yair Lapid is the obvious senior partner, and will be offered the portfolios of Finance or Foreign Affairs, plus one or more other goodies for those of his party colleagues he selects to be ministers or the chair of a Knesset committee. Speculation is that an Orthodox rabbi, but of the liberal variety in that tribe, has a good chance to be Minister of Education.

Lapid and his colleagues are emphasizing two demands. Most prominent is to impose on the ultra-Orthodox a greater burden of work, military or social service, education of their youngsters for something practical, and a reduction of the support they receive from the state treasury.

We''ve heard that Lapid will not join a government that includes SHAS, and that Bibi wants the Haredim in his government. Some Lapidniks are saying they are prepared to remain in Opposition, but that may just be noise.

Of unknown importance among Lapid and his colleagues is a demand that Israel try once more to open negotiations with the Palestinians.

If that demand is serious, it may cause some problems with Jewish Home. Some of its new MK''s have a fit when hearing the word Palestine. The head of Jewish Home, Naftali Benet, wants to join the government, but may have to lean on his colleagues and risk some loss of happiness in his settler constituency.

Benet also has a problem with Sara and maybe with Bibi. Word from someone in Likud is that they do not want Benet in the government. It is impossible to know if this is serious, or a rumor and sign of trouble from within Likud. Some of that party''s MKs blame Bibi for the loss of 11 seats from the last election to this one.

There is also trouble within Labor. That party has long been marked by factional nastiness, and now the long knives are being sharpened against Shelli Yehimovich for what her rivals view as a dismal performance in the campaign, poor results, and a mistaken proclamation that Labor would not join Netanyahu in the government. Some Laborites see a chance to woo Bibi into a center left coalition that will neutralize the ultra-Orthodox, fix the economy, improve social services, and do something about the Palestinians.

There is also trouble within each of the ultra-Orthodox parties. Ariyeh Deri''s rivals within SHAS note that he did not repeat his previous success in exciting the electorate. Being an ex-con may explain his limited appeal. Party leaders may have overlooked his conviction for accepting bribes, or joined the chorus saying he was railroaded by the secular Ashkenazi elite, but SHAS''s Sephardi constituency may be shrewd enough to recognize sleaze. Torah Judaism is even further into the nether world of who knows what is happening, and whether two 90-year old rabbis have settled their dispute over which of their generation will acquire the leadership from the even older rabbi who died some months ago.

SHAS and Torah Judaism are digging in their heels against the drafting of Yeshiva bocher or any worsening of their economic benefits, but they may sense a change in the tolerance of other Jews. Among the unknowns is who will bend more--if at all--on what appears to be the central issue of equality--directed against ultra-Orthodox privileges--in the politics toward the formation of a new government and definition of policy goals.

We''re hearing some combination of hypocrisy, naivete, or stupidity from prominent people in America, Europe, and Palestinians that the new government must work to settle things with the Palestinians.

All this in the context of no apparent signs that the West Bank leadership is justifying its label as the moderates by any hint of flexibility, the death toll in Syria climbing near or above 60,000, serious instability and maybe even a counter-revolution in Egypt, whatever is happening in Mali and elsewhere in Muslim Africa, and the unsolved problem of Iran.

There is a report about an explosion deep underground at an Iranian nuclear facility, but Israeli media are reporting it with a question mark. The source is something from the right wing of the United States, in the realm of the media known more for inspiration than hard work.

Anyone thinking than Israel holds a key to accommodation with Islam deserves a warm bed in the nearest asylum.

Netanyahu has cautioned that dealing with the Palestinians will take a good deal of time.

What this means is a matter of rank speculation. On the one hand, he is not one to say an absolute no to the worthies of the world, even if he thinks they are fantasizing about a Palestinian state. On the other hand, he doesn''t know what kind of wiggle room--either to the left or the right-- he''ll have from whatever government he manages to create.

One can hope for a breakthrough toward a peace agreement. However, as long as there are no signs of wiggling from the Palestinians, I would not expect anything more than condemnation from the American, European, and Israeli left--directed to whoever is governing Israel--for not trying harder.