Israeli Elections

So much for knowing who’s going to govern Israel. A few things, though, have become clear. First, while everyone still gives lip-service to the two-state solution, the two possible governing coalitions are either unwilling by principle (Likud, Lieberman, Shas) or unable by circumstance (Kadima, et al) to deliver the actual concessions on West Bank settlements and Jerusalem that Israel will ultimately need to make in order to secure a final status agreement with the Palestianian Authority.

Second, by Israeli security and military criteria, the Gaza War has to be considered pretty close to a best-case scenario: very significant damage to Hamas’ military capacity and resolve to pursue military resistance (see this extraordinary Telegraph interview with Hamas deputy leader Abu Marzouk from yesterday’s WPR Media Roundup), at the cost of very few Israeli casualties. And yet the party that made the most significant electoral gains in its aftermath, Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitheinu, represents a simultaneous retreat into autism and rejection of Palestinian subjectivity. When even military success breeds despair, it’s hard to be optimistic about the audacity of hope.

Third, while the general strategic consensus in Israel seems to have displaced the source of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict’s stubborn persistence to Iran, a possible Likud-YB-Shas coalition would represent the most vocal demonizers of Tehran. That’s likely to cause some tension with Washington as the Obama administration gets poised to roll out its charm campaign for engaging the Iranians.

Finally, this election seems to put the final nail in the coffin of the idea that we can somehow get back to Taba. The Road Map seemed like a practical, from-the-ground-up approach until the Hamas-Fatah split severely weakened it. Now the Israeli electorate has clearly renounced the concessions upon which Taba was based. Taba no longer really exists as an option because the two sides that conceived it no longer exist.

I think it’s possible that we’ve come to the end of the line for negotiations, at least for now. Which doesn’t necessarily mean that progress is impossible. Courageous leaders can make concessions unilaterally. Unfortunately, there seems to be a shortage of that type of leader for the moment. Another possibility would be for the U.S. to decouple the two sides’ Road Map obligations from the context of negotiations, and instead fold them into our bilateral relations which each government, so that aid would be contingent on living up to Road Map obligations. That way each side has an incentive to comply independent of the other’s compliance.

That, too, might seem unrealistic. But if Israel’s strategic focus stops at Tehran while Washington’s continues on to Afghanistan and Pakistan (see Jon Alterman’s Briefing for more), it won’t be long before our strategic interests begin to diverge significantly.