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The death of the right wing in Israel

As is evidenced over the last four weeks of Netanyahu’s coalition discussions, it is clear that there is no right-wing majority within Israeli society


President Shimon Peres’ decision to place the task of forming a coalition on Binyamin Netanyahu and the Likud party, instead of Tzipi Livni and Kadima, seemed to support the general consensus that the recent election gave a victory to the Israeli right wing and symbolized a death knell for the Israeli Left.
Without doubt, the fact that Meretz garnered only three seats and the Labor party, 13, does signify the dramatic shrinking of the left-wing foreign policy agenda among the Israeli Jewish population.
As is evidenced, however, over the last four weeks of Netanyahu’s coalition discussions, it is clear that there is no right-wing majority within Israeli society.

His ongoing attempt to court Kadima and Labor signifies that he himself is not so easily subjected to right-wing classification. Netanyahu knows full well that the 65-seat coalition he might be able to form is not an ideologically united group, but one of deeply varying ideologies and interests that will fundamentally make his leadership on almost any issue, foreign or internal, impossible. While he nominally ran as leader of the so-called right-wing bloc, it is not his preference for the future of the country. Netanyahu’s natural partners are Kadima and Labor, and he knows that.

There is a right wing, just as there is a left, but it is small. The only clear right-wing voices are those that belong to the Ichud Haleumi (National Union) party, which would not even allow the government to mention the words, "Palestinian state." And it is not certain at this moment that they even will be invited to join the coalition. As for Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beitenu (Israel Is Our Home) party of 15, while adopting democratically problematic declarations vis-à-vis Israel’s minorities, his overarching pragmatism makes him difficult to classify.
As for the ultra-religious parties of Shas and Agudat Israel, representing 16 of the 65 reputed right-wing bloc members of Knesset, it is clear from their coalition negotiations, that these parties’ major issues have nothing to do with foreign policy. Shas may pretend at times to care about foreign policy in order to placate some of the traditional Jews who give them approximately 7-8 seats, but both parties’ primary issues are funds for yeshiva students, child subsidies and housing for the ultra-Orthodox community, and continuing to serve as guardians of halakhah in Israeli society on issues of personal status.
What does this really mean for Israeli society? If the election had any outcome, it was not the victory of the so-called right, nor the defeat of the so-called left, but rather the clear defeat of both.
While America, with its two-party system can be divided between blue states and red states, along the lines of the Democrat and Republican parties, the plethora of parties in Israel is not simply the result of a faulty electoral system but of the deeply divided Israeli society.
What the election showed is that Israeli society if it is to be classified and bifurcated, it is not as right and left wing, but rather, as centrist and sectorial.
The sectorial bloc is constituted of four "tribes": the Russians – 10 seats; the ultra-Orthodox and their traditionalist supporters – 16 seats, the Arabs – 11 seats; the settlers and religious Zionists – 7 seats. Together they represent more than 30% of the electorate. (Editor’s Note: Click here to view a lecture by Donniel Hartman on, "The New Tribes of Israel.")
The centrist bloc is defined by the following foreign policy positions:  
  1. Israel must continue to build a responsible foreign policy based on its legitimate security needs, as well as pursuing peace options with our neighbors.
  2. Israel’s strength is dependent on a serious and open conversation, dialogue and alliances with our allies in North America and Western Europe.
  3. Land for peace is and must be on the table. How much land for how much peace and under what conditions is debatable; but that core feature remains.
This block, with close to 60% of the electorate is represented by the Likud,  Kadima and Labor, and grows to 70% if one adds some of Israel Beitenu and Bayit Yehudi voters. This bloc, which dwarfs all others, signifies a dramatic move of Israeli politics away from the pat political slogans of either the left or the right.
One of the difficulties we face, in fact, is that the terminology of a "right wing-left wing divide" doesn’t do justice to what Israel is and flattens the complexity of the situation. Immediately after the elections it was assumed there was a natural bloc for the Likud, and now we know that isn’t true.
Whether Netanyahu will form a coalition soon of 61-65 Knesset members, or whether Kadima and Labor will join and redefine the nature of the government, is as yet unclear. They might choose to stay aside and wait for the lie that is the so-called right wing majority, to be exposed.
It is now time for the future government of Israel to reflect the new majority which represents modern Israel. Whether it will be in the next month or so, in 10 months, or in a year at most, is irrelevant. The sooner Israel recognizes that the right-left divide is dead, and that the myth of the right-wing victory is just that, a world of possibilities will open.

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The End of Policy Substance in Israel Politics