Sure the Israeli Right Won? Peace Lost? Look Closer

To judge solely from the gloating, the right conclusively won last week's election. Hawkish politicians were swift to crow triumph. Hard-line analysts and legions of talk-backers have positively glowed in pronouncing the end of the left, the bankruptcy of compromise, the folly of restraint, and, most importantly for the hard right, the death of peace.

Israel has, in their view, finally grown up.

It should, therefore, have been no problem at all for Benjamin Netanyahu to swiftly marshal a clear majority for a coalition dedicated to the proposition that the only outlook more fit to govern than the right, is the far-right.

Why, then, has the self-styled National Camp Government, not simply fallen into place?

A closer examination of the much-vaunted Gush HaYamin, or Bloc of the Right, suggests that it qualifies neither as a bloc, nor, strictly speaking, as the Right.

There is the Likud [27 seats], with its track record of having already withdrawn in the past from 89 percent of all the territory Israel captured in the 1967 war. There is Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu [15], which has made far-reaching proposals for ceding land to the Palestinians, and is the current standard-bearer for secular rights in Israel. There is the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism [5] which has shown some willingness for flexibility in negotiations toward a future peace settlement. At this point, only the ultra-Orthodox Sephardi Shas [11], the settler-dominated Jewish Home [3] and the far-right National Union [4] can be reliably counted upon to reject compromise.

The longer Netanyahu's ostensible natural partners continue to hold out demands and conditions, the more the fundamental ideological differences between the parties -- and the distance between those factions and the traditional Israeli Right -- become more pronounced.

Moreover, the more conflicting the demands of the Gush Yamin, the more likely Netanyahu will be forced to turn, for lack of a better alternative, to options thought impossible just a few days ago: a shared-power arrangement with Tzipi Livni's Kadima, or even, in the darkest-horse stable, some resurrection of an alliance with Ehud Barak's Labor.

In fact, if the 2009 election has conclusively demonstrated anything, it is the overwhelming consensus across Israeli society for the rejection of the bedrock right-wing principle of a Greater Israel encompassing and annexing all of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Shockingly, the Israeli public may have voted for the right not because it rejects the idea of peace deals, partition, and a two-state solution, but because it believes the right is better qualified to find a way to carry out that undeniably painful process.

"The outcome of the elections indicates that Israelis view the 'peace process' with the Palestinians as a divorce process," writes economic analyst Elah Alkalai.

"As their unwilling embrace was arranged by global forces, so apparently will be their separation. Think of it as severance of an arranged marriage, and the vote Israelis cast last week was for what they perceive as the roughest, toughest divorce lawyer in town."

Avigdor Lieberman, the hands-down success story of the election, has repeatedly outraged the far-right by suggesting in the past that some heavily Arab-populated East Jerusalem neighborhoods and refugee camps be ceded to an eventual independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. He has consistently alientated the ultra-Orthodox -- an essential building block of any right-wing dream coalition -- by demanding civil-marriage and modified Jewish conversion legislation favored by Lieberman's ultra-secular constituency.

Netanyahu's Likud, the anchor of a potential rightist coalition, has been on record for years as favoring an eventual Palestinian state in the territories, as long as strict security guarantees were met. The Likud is also the only party ever to have headed a government which dismantled established settlements.

Only two parties, representing just seven seats in the 120-seat Knesset, still argue for a Greater Israel. Not even the fringe-right National Union with its frankly pro-Kahane wing, dares come out in public for a return to permanent Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip, stating in its platform only that "There will be no uprooting of Jewish communities and no surrender of parts of the Land of Israel in any subsequent Israeli government led by the party."

"In other words," Alkalai concludes, "The majority vote was cast for a leadership -- the right wing -- that the public thinks can end the relationship with the most assets for Israelis and preferably no alimony at all for the spouse."