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Israel Shifts to the Center

It’s not easy to decipher the fluid Israeli electorate. On the one hand, polls suggest a major shift to the right, with the centrist party Kadima and the conservative Likud roughly tied for the lion’s share of the Knesset, while the traditional-left Labor party has descended to competing with all the other second-tier parties such as Shas, Yisrael Beiteinu, and Meretz. On the other hand, in terms of actual policy prescriptions, the center has itself moved dramatically to the left, with Kadima advocating the creation of a Palestinians state close to the pre-1967 borders and, apparently, the ceding of the Golan Heights in exchange for peace with Syria–positions that just a decade ago were considered far-left.

One little-noticed shift, however, appears to be taking place from the extremes to the center. A decade ago, the positions that advocated settlements and refused any territorial concession, on the one hand, or immediate withdrawal from the territories and dismantlement of settlements, on the other — these were like two poles that pulled the electorate towards them, dividing the nation. Since the start of the second intifada, both of these views have lost a lot of credibility, a fact that laid the groundwork for Kadima, the country’s first-ever successful centrist party.

This week, we saw further indicators of the shift to the center. MK Effie Eitam, a firebrand representative of the religious settlement movement, announced he was running for a place on the Likud list, rather than with any of the far-right parties that he has previously been associated with. At the same time, the head of Peace Now, Yariv Oppenheimer, announced that he is joining–not Meretz, but Labor.

We should not expect either of these figures to shoot to the top of their party lists. Neither Likud nor Labor gains from being perceived as extremist these days. Yet Eitam and Oppenheimer have dealt a serious blow to the parties that have always been their natural homes.



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