Analysis: Winners and losers in the election

The message voters delivered to the Palestinians on Tuesday was loud and clear: If you won’t talk, Israel will stop listening.

Mahmoud Abbas 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Mahmoud Abbas 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
As the smoke of misleading polls cleared and the truth of the near-final vote count emerged, it became clear who won and who lost the general election.
If one can name winners in Tuesday’s vote – notwithstanding it being described by Jerusalem Post diplomatic reporter Herb Keinon as Israel’s most anemic in recent memory – they are undoubtedly the Israeli public.
As Keinon noted on these pages in Wednesday’s newspaper, the campaign focused squarely on domestic issues, and on a resounding call by the public to effect change in several key areas dividing Israelis: a fair share for the haredi community in the national burden of military and/or national service; the rising cost of living; and the growing gaps between rich and poor.
Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid, who summarized his stance at a press conference less than two weeks ago when he proclaimed that he wanted his party to be the “Shas of the middle class,” soared on a primarily domestic agenda, going from being scorned as a good-looking but shallow TV celebrity with little to offer to a kingmaker.
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Labor’s Shelly Yacimovich deliberately set aside her diplomatic views in an effort to capitalize on the same issues and apparently succeeded in enticing many former Kadima and some formerly staunch Likudniks to vote for her. Stav Shaffir and Itzik Shmuli, two of the leaders of the social justice protest of the summer of 2011, are now slated to enter the Knesset as Labor MKs.
Among the losers, Kadima – billing leader Shaul Mofaz as Israel’s own Mr.-Security-cum-Rambo in its campaign ads – all but evaporated.
Tzipi Livni, leading an ad hoc party running primarily on a diplomatic agenda, positioned herself farther to the Left than Labor and grabbed a third fewer mandates than pre-election polls predicted.
Haredi parties Shas and United Torah Judaism lost little in mandates but were unlikely to be able to hold Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu hostage to their demands come coalition-talk time.
But the real losers of the election to the 19th Knesset did not vote. Most are not even citizens, although they nevertheless had – until Tuesday – probably the most influence on the makeup of every Israeli government since the early 1990s. They are the Palestinians.
Consider that Operation Pillar of Defense against Hamas in Gaza, and Palestinian Authority President (and Fatah leader) Mahmoud Abbas’s apparent victory at the UN, where the PA gained the status of nonmember observer state, happened less than six months ago and are still quite fresh in the collective Israeli memory. In this election the Palestinians, in both Gaza and the West Bank, simply didn’t matter.
Strong Israel, running on a ticket combining classic hatred for all things Arab and a more currentaffairs- oriented xenophobia against African migrants, failed to even make it into the 19th Knesset, depriving long-serving MK Arieh Eldad and vocal MK Michael Ben-Ari of their jobs.
Likud Beytenu, whose officials played up the prospect of success for the PA’s statehood bid as the perfect storm, suffered a relative setback. The storm never happened: The Palestinians, for all their celebrations of independence following their victory in the General Assembly, are not much better off.
Even Naftali Bennett’s Bayit Yehudi, whose stance on diplomacy vis-àvis the Palestinians differs from Strong Israel’s in appearance more than substance, focused on the issue of general conscription for Israelis more than on peace talks or the absence thereof. It was really only days ago that the Palestinians built a tent city in the controversial E1 area – emulating both settler outposts in the West Bank and the tent cities of the social justice protests in the heart of Tel Aviv – a move that left the Israeli electorate unimpressed.
Abbas may have had his reasons for avoiding negotiations with Netanyahu both during the 10- month construction moratorium in the settlements, which ran from November 2009 to September 2010, and following it, just as he may have had his reasons to fervently negotiate with Livni when she served as foreign minister during the Olmert administration (only to come up empty-handed, despite then-prime minister Ehud Olmert’s generous offers).
But it seems as if his choice to refuse any and all negotiations more recently came up snake-eyes with the Israeli public. The message voters delivered to the Palestinians on Tuesday was loud and clear: If you won’t talk, Israel will stop listening.