Analysis: A vote for internal change

Results show Israel turns inward, but not in isolationist sense.

Election Day (photo credit: marc israel sellem)
Election Day
(photo credit: marc israel sellem)
After slogging through a dead, relatively uneventful campaign, the Israeli electorate went to the polls Tuesday and sent their leaders an unmistakable message: Change.
Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett, political novices, are the country’s poster boys for change – and they did astonishingly well. The old guard – Binyamin Netanyahu, Avigdor Liberman, Tzipi Livni, Shaul Mofaz – they all took it on the chin. However, a look at the initial results shows that the change the country is looking for is not necessarily a change in external policy, but changes within.
A vote for a dramatic change in the country’s diplomatic/security direction would have meant a torrent of voters for Livni, or Meretz, or even Kadima, all of which championed a different diplomatic position than the one Netanyahu has been promoting.
Livni’s campaign, for example, was all about returning to the way things were when she was negotiating with the PLO’s Ahmed Qurei. Tuesday’s results, and Livni’s devastatingly poor showing, didn’t indicate nostalgia for those days.
No, the votes did not pour in for Livni, but rather for Lapid, Shelly Yacimovich and Bennett.
And none of those candidates – not even Bennett, so often labeled extreme Right – ran a campaign on diplomatic/ security external issues.
No, these three candidates ran primarily on domestic matters: Lapid on a more equitable distribution of the army and tax burdens; Yacimovich on creating a more affordable state; and Bennett both on the cost-of-living issue and on inculcating the country with Jewish and Zionist values. Even Bennett did not front his campaign pitch with a call for more settlement construction (not that he doesn’t want it), but with a call for cheaper housing.
And all that says much about where the country is right now.
Voter turnout on Tuesday was over 66 percent, which shows a nation not apathetic and disengaged, as many claim, but engaged and concerned (some 57.5% of the US electorate, by comparison, turned out for the recent elections there).
This engaged and concerned electorate is supremely aware of the external challenges it faces: from Iran, which calls for the country’s destruction, to an Egypt with a president who calls Jews the descendants of apes and pigs, to an imploding Syria, to a Palestinian Authority that has done nothing to show it is interested in an end-of-conflict agreement.
Still, it voted en masse for candidates who made those issues secondary in their campaigns.
Why? Because Israelis no longer feel those issues are important? No. It’s because Israelis do not feel they can necessarily impact those issues.
Israelis have been cured of a naiveté that if they just withdraw from territory, then peace will flow like a river. A second intifada and disastrous results from the Gaza withdrawal took care of that. They realize that there are actors on the other side – in Egypt, Syria and the PA – whom they are not going to be able to influence.
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The Arab Spring put Israel in an uncomfortable and difficult position: dramatic events unfolding, and exactly zero ability to affect any of it.
But internal matters, well, those are different. Lapid’s surprising showing, and the possibility that a coalition could be established without the ultra- Orthodox parties, shows voters are saying that if they cannot impact external events, they certainly can influence internal ones.
Tuesday’s results indicate a country that has turned inward, but not in an isolationist sense. Rather, the results bespeak a nation that has accepted the things it cannot change, and is now focusing on what it believes it can. •