Just How Far Did the Israeli Electorate Move to the Center?

Walter Russell Mead, whose writing I consistently enjoy, goes a bit hard on the mainstream media (so-called) for misreading Israeli politics:

The story as far as we're concerned is the spectacular flop of the West's elite media. If you've read anything about Israeli politics in the past couple weeks, you probably came away expecting a major shift to the right--the far right.

Mead hints, and Ari Shavit, in a very interesting column, openly argues, that the results of the Israeli election suggest that the right is at least an ephemerally waning phenomenon. I wouldn't go that far, as I'll explain in a second, but first, in (partial) defense of the MSM, what Mead isn't considering is that the rise of Naftali Bennett's far-right Jewish Home Party provoked a counter-reaction among frightened Israeli centrists just before the election, which could account for the fact that most everyone, including most Israeli commentators, thought Bennett would end up with 15 or 16 seats. As it is, his party wound up with 12, which ain't chopped liver.

On the larger point, it is true that Yair Lapid, rather than Bennett, is the kingmaker of the coming coalition (at least until Shelly Yachimovich brings the Labor Party into the tent -- and talk about a recipe for a stable coalition!). But it is also true that Lapid, and his voters, are not leftists; they are not particularly interested in a preemptive settlement freeze, or even necessarily in an Obama-requested settlement freeze; and they are certainly not interested in "dividing" Jerusalem (which actually would mean establishing a Palestinian capital in the eastern, Arab, neighborhoods of the city).

And it's reasonably certain that Lapid, while demanding that Netanyahu restart in earnest negotiations with the Palestinian Authority as a precondition for joining the coalition, has other, more important, things on his mind, including and especially the issues that actually propelled him to victory: Ending the subsidies and special treatment of the Haredim, the ultra-Orthodox, in particular. So I'm not expecting much movement on the peace process, even with Lapid as foreign minister (the job people are saying he's been offered.) The good thing about Lapid as foreign minister is that Israel will finally have a foreign minister it can send to foreign countries without embarrassment.

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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