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Israel's Far-Right Scrambles to Maintain Power After Rebuke at Polls

Netanyahu may or may not remain as prime minister, but either way 'Palestinian people are the main losers'

Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

Yair Lapid gestures as he delivers a speech at the "Yesh Atid" party in Tel-Aviv Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013. (AP/Sebastian Scheiner)

Results in Tuesday's national elections dashed expectations for Israel's most ardent rightwing parties in what was largely seen as a rebuke to the rhetoric and policies of current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Tight poll results became clear Wednesday revealing a surprise split between Netanyahu's traditional far-right Likud bloc allies and an emerging force of more centrist parties within the Knesset's 120-seat legislature—an unexpected blow to Likud's leaders, who were strongly favored heading into the elections.

With 99.8 percent of votes counted on Wednesday morning, each bloc had captured 60 of the legislature's 120 seats.

As a result, Netanyahu will have to struggle to pull together a majority coalition within six weeks in order to maintain his seat—a coalition that will now likely have to include centrist party Yesh Atid and their leader Yair Lapid who has said he will only join a coalition committed to leftist economic reform and a push to resume peace talks with Palestinians.

"Lapid told cheering supporters after Tuesday's election that he wants a broad alliance of moderates, suggesting he would try to prod Netanyahu to abandon his traditional right-wing and ultra-Orthodox Jewish allies," Associated Press reports. Should Netanyahu fail to form a coalition, another party will be allowed to try—meaning Netanyahu could loose his position as Prime Minister.

However, despite the potential of a slight turn leftward in Israeli domestic and economic policies, the question of occupied Palestine remained largely untouched in the campaign season, even from the likes of Lapid.

During the course of his campaign, Lapid portrayed himself as "an average Israeli and champion of a middle class struggling to make ends meet." However, while focusing on domestic concerns, he said relatively little about Israel's treatment of Palestine, AP reports. While calling for a resumption of peace talks that were frozen during Netanyahu's term, he also urged that Israel should keep war-won east Jerusalem—a hot button issue and one at the heart of Palestinian demands for a future independent state.

And the New York Times writes today:

Perhaps as important, he also avoided antagonizing the right, having not emphasized traditional issues of the left, like the peace process. Like a large majority of the Israeli public, he supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but is skeptical of the Palestinian leadership’s willingness to negotiate seriously; he has called for a return to peace talks but has not made it a priority.

Al Jazeera reports Wednesday that many Palestinians viewed the election results "grimly," pointing to the fact that unless far more radical changes are made within the institutions of Israel, Palestinians will continue to suffer under illegal occupation.

"If he brings Lapid into his government, this would improve the image of the Netanyahu government in the eyes of the world. But it won't make him stop building settlements, particularly in east Jerusalem,'' said Mohammed Ishtayeh, a senior adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Ahmed Assaf, spokesman for Fatah, the Western-backed party of Abbas, said: "The Palestinian people are the main losers from this duel between the racist right-wing parties."

Middle East commentator Juan Cole added on Wednesday, that although Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are under the control of the Israeli military and their daily lives are largely dictated by the Israeli government, Palestinians are denied the ability to vote in Israeli state elections.

Cole writes:

The that 4 million Palestinians living under Israeli control could not vote in these elections. They could not vote because they are stateless. They are not citizens of any state. And Netanyahu is committed, despite occasional whitewashing of his position in public, to keeping the Palestinians without a state. But Israel controls the air, water and land of Palestine, and dictates Palestinian lives. [...]

Within Israel, the turnout in Tuesday’s election could be as high as 70%, out of over 5 million eligible voters [including those in the occupied territories]. But in fact turnout was less than half of the people of Israel and its annexed territories. If all the people living under the control of the Israeli government could vote, we would be discussing how many seats in the Knesset went to Hamas, Fatah and the PFLP, and whether Fatah would join a centrist coalition against Netanyahu.[...]

What we hear from Ramallah, Bethlehem and Khan Younis is instead the silence of the stateless, the helplessness of the colonized, the groans of Apartheid.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

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