Netanyahu Does Even Worse Than Expected at the Polls, Wins Third Term

Newly formed centrist party wins big



The Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu eked out a win at the polls today, but his right-wing Likud-Yisrael coalition was projected by the Jerusalem Post to have won only 29 seats. The two parties won 42 seats between them last time around, running separately in 2009. The leader of the Yisrael party, Avigdor Lieberman, resigned last month after being indicted on corruption charges. Sixty one seats are needed to control the Knesset, and Netanyahu is expected to be able to form a government. The Jersualem Post's projections show the possibility of a center-left coalition, with three seats still being disputed between the centrist Kadima and the nationalist Strong Israel. Most surprising was the capture of up to 19 seats by the newly formed center/center-left Yesh Atid, to whom Netanyahu reached out before making his victory speech.

While the Jerusalem Post characterized the incoming results as "a clear shift away from the Right," Shibley Tahami, the Anwar Sadat professor for peace and development at Maryland-College Park and a fellow at the Brookings Institution saw something different. Writing for Reuters:

A victory in Tuesday's Israeli elections by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud Yisrael Beiteinu alliance and the ascent of even more extreme parties are indications of Israelis' continued move to the right.

It is also an indication of the limits and the challenges faced by the Obama administration in its relationship with Israel. Despite Netanyahu's obvious preference for President Barack Obama's Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, in the U.S. presidential elections — and a sense that he was intervening through proxies — Obama's ability to influence the outcome of the Israeli elections has been negligible.

According to Tahami any tensions between Obama and Netanyahu may be irrelevant to broader U.S.-Israeli relations:

In a poll I conducted in Israel with the Program for International Policy Attitudes after the U.S. presidential elections, fielded by Israel's Dahaf Institute, most Israelis said they believed the tension between Netanyahu and Obama would not affect the U.S.-Israeli relationship.

Sixty percent of Israelis said "the personal relationship" between Obama and Netanyahu would "not make much difference" to American support for Israel, and those who predict that the relationship will increase support (23 percent) substantially outweighed those who said it would diminish support (11 percent). This was so despite the fact that 6 in 10 Israelis felt that Netanyahu supported Obama's opponent in the November elections.

Al-Jazeera, meanwhile, saw a "subdued mood" in the wake of Netanyahu's victory:

The mood was subdued at Netanyahu's Likud party election headquarters after the polls closed, with only a few hundred supporters in a venue that could house thousands.

Al Jazeera's Patty Culhane, reporting from Washington DC, commented on the tense relationship between US President Barack Obama and Netanyahu.

"Officially in the US they are not really weighing in yet," she said, regarding Netanyahu's victory. "Behind the scenes, we know [President Barack] Obama and Netanyahu do not get along."

President Barack Obama has faded the idea of the Palestinian peace process, as he doesn't believe Netanyahu wants peace," she said.

Deteriorating relations with the Palestinians was a top priority for only 16 percent of voters (mainly left-wing) and the Iranian threat for only 12 percent of voters (mainly right-wing), according to a poll taken by the Times of Israel earlier this month. 43 percent chose the economy. In his victory speech tonight, Netanyahu said his primary challenge was preventing a nuclear Iran, something most Israelis want their country to cooperate with the U.S. on.