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

By Jeffrey Goldberg

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.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/01/just-how-far-did-the-israeli-electorate-move-to-the-center/272469/