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Thursday, October 23, 2014
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Published: Saturday, 1/26/2013

Israel’s election

The political opponents of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel were ecstatic at his apparent losses in this week’s elections. Yet while Mr. Netanyahu is weakened and his political future less certain, he is still expected to be prime minister after the post-election horse trading is done.

Television celebrity Yair Lapid surprised many people by leading his party to second place behind Mr. Netanyahu’s conservative ticket, taking 19 of Parliament’s 120 seats. Allies of Mr. Netanyahu won 31 seats, down from the 42 seats their parties held before.

Mr. Lapid has indicated a willingness to form a coalition with Mr. Netanyahu, but other parties could be enlisted. That could mean more centrist leaders joining Mr. Netanyahu and tempering his hard-right line on talks with the Palestinians and other issues, but it could also mean more hard-liners.

We wish Mr. Lapid’s election success constituted an unambiguous endorsement of vigorous peace talks, but voters said they were more focused on domestic issues. Even though Mr. Netanyahu did worse than predicted, voters still gave the most seats to his ticket, which was purged of some moderates in favor of more right-wing candidates.

Still, there is reason to hope that the new government could be more receptive to a peace initiative. The vote suggests that if it is not, Israelis may give even more support next time to a centrist coalition not led by Mr. Netanyahu.

Mr. Lapid has been skeptical of the Palestinian leadership’s willingness to negotiate and has not made peace talks a priority. But he supports a two-state solution and renewing peace talks that have been frozen for four years. Although he also has endorsed a two-state solution, Mr. Netanyahu has so aggressively built new settlements that it soon may be impossible to create a contiguous Palestinian state.

Mr. Lapid is not the only new force in Israeli politics. Naftali Bennett, a settlement advocate and leader of a religious-Zionist party, is even more hard-line toward the Palestinians than Mr. Netanyahu. His party did worse than predicted, winning only 11 seats, but he remains a force against the Palestinians.

The White House renewed its call for peace talks to resume. This won’t mean much if President Obama is not ready to invest political capital in a new diplomatic initiative.

Unlike the bungled effort in his first term, though, he needs carefully to prepare the political ground, including making his first trip to Israel as President and explaining to the Israeli people how any peace plan will enhance their security.

— New York Times



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