Israel's Rightward Shift Sparks Worries

Americans Fear Peace Will Be Casualty of Election Results

The fast-shifting Israeli political scene has U.S. policymakers fearing the worst for the peace process after the January 22 elections.
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The fast-shifting Israeli political scene has U.S. policymakers fearing the worst for the peace process after the January 22 elections.

By Nathan Guttman

Published December 19, 2012, issue of December 21, 2012.
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And while the Likud’s step to the right has raised concerns that the peace process will be sidelined, Washington perceives that the condition of Israel’s center and center-left — once viewed as a political ally in the quest for negotiations with Palestinians — spells a bleak future for chances of reaching an agreement in the coming years. Until recently, the Israeli center was dominated by Labor — the historic political home of the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and supporters of a negotiated two-state solution — and by Kadima, which was formed by former prime minister Ariel Sharon and was also viewed as the driving force for renewing peace talks.

This, however, is no longer the picture. Labor, under the leadership of Shelly Yachimovich, has shifted its focus to social issues, making the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a secondary task. Kadima, now led by Shaul Mofaz, has been weakened to the point of becoming almost irrelevant. And two new parties joined the crowded center: Yesh Atid, a party founded by TV personality Yair Lapid that does not hold strong views regarding the peace process, and Hatnua, a party founded and led by former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, which has vowed to make peace negotiations a top priority but has yet to prove its political power.

“For Americans, what is most bewildering is that one party is playing baseball, the other is playing football and the third is playing basketball,” Makovsky said. “It is not clear what these elections are about.”

These shifts in the right and center mean that hope for an Israeli government that will put peacemaking high on its agenda has diminished in Washington.

“There’s no doubt that if American administration officials could vote, they’d choose Livni in the ballots,” said Dan Arbell, scholar in residence at the department of history and the Center for Israeli Studies of the American University in Washington. “Americans would like very much to see Livni inside the next coalition in Israel, in order to give some chance for moving forward the peace process.”

But while for some in the foreign policy community the upcoming Israeli elections are a source of anguish, Israel’s vibrant political system offers many opportunities for political consultants now available after the American presidential battle. Most major parties in Israel have already signed up American political consultants and pollsters to help win voters.

Likud Beiteinu will work with Bill Knapp, who assisted Netanyahu’s campaign in 2008, as well as with longtime adviser Arthur Finkelstein. Labor has enlisted Stanley Greenberg, a Democratic pollster who has worked with the party in previous campaigns. Lapid’s Yesh Atid party hired the services of Mark Mellman, and Kadima will work with David Eichenbaum, who was recently involved with the pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA.

Activists within the Jewish community who in the past doled out financial contributions to Israeli politicians were less involved in this election cycle. With the exception of Danon, donations to Israeli politicians remained low. Candidates running on the Likud list benefited mainly from contributions made by members of the Florida-based Falic family, which is also Netanyahu’s largest donor, and from several other longtime Likud donors.

Competing for a seat on the Labor list, activist Stav Shaffir, who was among the leaders of the 2011 social protest, sent out an email appeal to American donors in which she argued that American money should not go only to right-wing candidates. “I don’t believe supporters of Netanyahu are the only Americans who care about Israel.

Please support my campaign, stand behind your values and help bring a progressive voice to the Knesset.” Shaffir’s appeal seems to have worked: She raised more than $10,000, and won a safe place on the Labor list.

Contact Nathan Guttman at guttman@forward.com


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