Israeli Elections Afterthoughts

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to chair the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office, Sunday, March
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to chair the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office, Sunday, March 8, 2015. Tens of thousands of Israelis gathered Saturday night at a Tel Aviv square under the banner "Israel wants change" and called for Netanyahu to be replaced in March 17 national elections. (AP Photo/Gali Tibbon, Pool)

This week's elections in Israel brought on a roller coaster of emotions to many Israelis and American Jews. At the end of the day, the major blocks: right, left and center, have maintained their relative strength, with a few seats swaying here and there. However, inside each block, significant shifts in power occurred. And while final results are just in, and coalition negotiations are just beginning, there are a couple of things to look at and think about:

1. Coalition Negotiations -- there are two major pillars of policy issues in the coalition negotiations: foreign policy & security, i.e. Israeli-Arab conflict; and, socio-economic, i.e. cost of living.

Considering the composition of the new parliament, it is likely that Prime Minister Netanyahu will keep tight control over foreign policy and security issues. In the last days of the campaign, Netanyahu removed all ambiguity about his ideology with regards to these issues. It provided him a popular momentum that even he did not expect. The backing of the right-wing block will provide Netanyahu the confidence and stability he needs for that.

This leaves Netanyahu with the socio-economic issues to offer compromises and deals to coalition members. In his last administration, Netanyahu 'outsourced' the Ministry of Finance to Yair Lapid. This allowed Netanyahu to distance himself from the economic shortcomings, and blame Lapid for those, during the campaign. Netanyahu, is likely to do a repeat of this maneuver, this time with Moshe Kahlon.

2. Israeli Jews and Arabs -- One of the most significant outcomes of these elections is the emergence of a united Arab list. This is not a unification of thought or ideology, rather an instinctual reaction to the increase to the threshold needed in order to enter the parliament (which threatened the traditional Arab parties). The united list created a momentum in the Israeli-Arab community that has not been there before. Instead of boycotting the elections, Arabs went to vote in similar rates to Jews, and in some places even greater rates. The Arab minority in Israel is about 20 percent. Mathematically, a united Arab list should have about 23-24 seats in Parliament. Well... they did not get that, but they are settling comfortably with 13 or 14 seats, as the 3rd largest party in the Knesset. While this doesn't have much impact on government and power, it is symbolically very important. Israeli Jews are much more aware now of the significant power of this minority (for better or worse).

In addition, Prime Minister Netanyahu's appearance on Election Day, 'warning' Israelis that the Arab are "voting it huge numbers," illustrates the danger in the fear of Israeli Jews of the significant Arab minority.

The above trends, combined with the consolidation of a right-wing electoral win, might lead to a wave of legislation trying to curve Arab political participation, and risk some of the Democratic principles of the State, such as the "loyalty law," the "nationality law", and the "Supreme Court bypass law."

3. U.S. - Israeli Relations -- It is not news that there is no love lost between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu. However, not enough has been said about the deeper tear in U.S. - Israeli relations; a tear that goes deeper than the two Heads of States personalities'. Two weeks ago, Netanyahu broke U.S. protocol by the way he came to speak at Congress. Last week, Netanyahu blamed the Obama Administration of funneling money through foundations in a concerted campaign to oust him. Three days ago, Netanyahu publicly stated his absolute rejection of Palestinian Statehood, a long-standing U.S. policy objective, previously accepted by Netanyahu himself.

These latest actions and statements, combined with the last six years of ongoing crises between the two governments have led to lasting imprints all through the diplomatic and civil servant ranks in both the Department of State and the Department of Defense. Associating Israeli leadership with arrogance and negative 'chutzpah' are a mild way of expressing the sentiments heard inside these departments. These are not political appointees. These are career diplomats and civil servants. The ramifications of these tears can be devastating to the special alliance, if not seriously and carefully addressed. It is difficult to see how the emerging new government can do that.