Israel’s voters have rendered their verdict on their country’s political parties and the results are somewhat muddled. Tzipi Livni’s Kadima Party appears to have finished first by one Knesset seat over Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud (though that might yet change when the final results are tabulated). But the parties of the “right” have a clear majority over those of the “left,” which may leave Bibi in a stronger position to put together a government than Livni. The truth is no Israeli government, whether it is headed by Livni or Netanyahu, is going to give away more territory to the Palestinians under the current circumstances. The “moderates” of Fatah that run the Palestinian Authority are too weak to sign any peace agreement even if they wanted to. Any territory given away now would become, like Gaza, a new Hamasistan.
But these facts mean nothing to an American Jewish left that has been energized by the Obama victory. Groups like J Street, the left-wing would-be alternative to AIPAC, and its allies are still pushing hard for the new administration to pressure Israel to talk to Hamas and make more concessions in the name of a peace process that is utterly bankrupt. In today’s Los Angeles Times, M.J. Rosenberg, the spokesperson for the similarly dovish Israel Policy Forum laments the realities of an Israeli politics which has meant the destruction of parties there that he supports. His thought? It doesn’t matter. All that matters is whether Obama is willing to ride roughshod over the will of Israel’s voters and force it to do things that its people know are dangerous.
This may not affect the peace process, the fate of which rests less on the makeup of Israel’s government than on Obama’s level of determination. Obama has indicated that he wants to have the United States play the role of “honest broker” between Israelis and Palestinians rather than continue to act like “Israel’s lawyer,” as former Middle East mediator Aaron David Miller described the U.S. stance under Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
So far the signs are good that Obama intends to play that role. The appointment of George Mitchell, who brokered the Northern Ireland agreement, as special envoy to the Middle East is a promising indication that Obama intends to push both Israelis and Palestinians hard to get to an agreement.
While we will have to wait to see how the muddle of the Israeli election results is sorted out, the real battle in this country will be between those who support the right of Israelis to make their own decisions about their security and those, like Rosenberg, who favor American pressure on Israel to make concessions to a Palestinian side that has proven it is uninterested in peace.