Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Israel Heads To New Elections; Polls Indicate Shift To The Right

New Election Will Mute Calls For Concessions

As Israel heads to the polls again, the country will turn inward and neglect its diplomatic woes in favor of talk about polls, primaries and the other sorts of politicking that characterize election campaigns.

Everything having to do with the Palestinians — including efforts to enlist the international community to help prevent the Hamas-run Gaza Strip from rearming, and to thwart the Palestinian Authority’s unilateral statehood bid at the United Nations — will take a backseat to domestic politics for the months to come. And much as the international community would like to see Israelis and Palestinians resume peace talks, pressure on the two sides to get back to the negotiating table will ease. Nobody expects Israel to make any moves on this front in the middle of an election campaign.

 But now even the calls for renewed talks — issued every so often by (more and less) well-meaning politicians and diplomats across the globe, especially during visits here —  will fall silent. Threats of sanctions if Israel fails to move toward a two-state solution, such as those issued recently by the European Union, will likely cease for the duration of the campaign as well. Those worried about time running out for the two-state solution will regret the months lost.

“New elections will probably bring us some reprieve,” a senior Israeli official said Tuesday. “The countries seeking to recognize Palestine argue that their move is intended to exert pressure on Israel to make concessions. They know that this won’t be effective in the middle of an Israeli election season.”

But the respite from international pressure will be brief. As soon as the votes have been counted and the coalition haggling has been concluded, the international community will awake from its election-induced hibernation. World leaders will once again start pressuring the inhabitant of the Prime Minister’s Residence on Jerusalem’s Balfour Street, urging him (or, most improbably, her) to actively move toward a peace deal with the Palestinians. And then we’ll all see if, in this area, the premature return to the ballot box actually changed anything.

The Likud will be the largest party in the Knesset after the 2015 snap elections, according to two surveys conducted Tuesday, shortly after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he would dissolve his government.

According to a Channel 10 poll, Likud would win 22 seats, Jewish Home 17, Labor 13, Yisrael Beytenu 12, Moshe Kahlon’s as-yet-unnamed party 12, Yesh Atid nine, the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism eight, Shas seven, Meretz seven, Hatnua four and the Arab parties nine.

A survey by Channel 2 showed Likud with 22, Jewish Home 17, Labor 13, Kahlon and Yisrael Beytenu with 10 apiece, Yesh Atid with nine, Shas with nine, United Torah Judaism with eight, Meretz with seven, Hatnua with four, and the Arab parties with 11.

Both polls would have made pleasant reading for Likud leader Netanyahu, showing a strengthening of the right, and numerous potential coalition options for him.

Jordan on Tuesday launched a bid to win backing for a UN resolution calling for a final Israeli-Palestinian peace deal that could be presented to the Security Council in the coming weeks.

Jordan’s Ambassador Dina Kawar said she would be meeting with representatives from Arab countries and council members to gauge whether there is support for a “unified text” on advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace.

If a consensus can be reached, a draft resolution could be presented to the council later this month or in January, she said.

“We are going to try to make it before Christmas, if not it will be in January,” Kawar told reporters. “We really want to get everybody on board. That’s our intention.”

The Palestinians, backed by the Arab League, circulated a draft resolution at the end of September that called for ending the Israeli occupation by November 2016.

The text ran into opposition from the United States and other members of the council, opening the way for the Europeans led by France to begin talks on a separate draft that would set a timeframe for ending negotiations.

Palestinian representative Riyad Mansour told AFP on Monday that he expected the new resolution to be presented by the middle of the month, with a vote to quickly follow.
“The French are moving more and more, trying to bring all the European colleagues together, and I think that eventually they will succeed,” he said.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told parliament last week that a final settlement should be reached within two years.

Fabius is due to meet US Secretary of State John Kerry in Brussels on Wednesday to discuss the French proposal that would also pave the way for an international conference to relaunch the peace process.
It remains unclear whether the United States, which has vetoed UN resolutions seen as critical of Israel, would support a text to restart the peace process.
Jordan’s push at the United Nations came as France’s National Assembly voted in favor of recognising Palestine in a non-binding measure similar to those adopted in Britain, Spain and Ireland.
Denmark is also planning to hold a vote while Sweden has taken the additional step of offering recognition of Palestine.

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