Israelis headed for the polls today, with turnout higher than it has been in a decade. The consensus among Israeli pundits is that incumbent Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu is headed for victory, albeit a narrower one than he expected when he called early elections. The conventional wisdom has it that Israel is taking a great leap to the Right with this election; some polls bear out that more than 50 percent of Israelis self-identify on the Right vs. 38 percent on the Center and the Left. Nonetheless, more than 50 percent of all Israelis support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
From Washington, the big questions have little to do with the domestic questions that dominated the Israeli polls, and more to do with whom Netanyahu will choose to bolster his coalition. Will he go further right with the new Jewish Home party? Stick to the Center and pro-peace parties? Or go with Labor, a shadow of its once mighty self? If Netanyahu decides to join forces with former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, the peace process will be back on the menu for the next term. Labor…not so much. Most Israelis have little hope that the Palestinians are ready for anything other than conflict. Adding fuel to that fire, hapless Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas helpfully told Lebanese TV for an interview to be broadcast later this week: “I challenge anyone to deny the relationship between Zionism and Nazism before World War II.” So there’s that.
But do either Barack Obama or John Kerry (if confirmed) really have the heart for another run at the endless rerun of the peace process? I suspect not. Sure, Chuck Hagel would love to put Israel on the hot seat, but that won’t be his job. Instead, we’ll be looking to Obama’s new team to figure out how to stop the Israelis from acting against Iran when it gets the makings of a nuclear bomb this year, stanch spillover from an increasingly turbulent Middle East, and manage the retreat that is the Obama foreign policy signature. In other words, Israel, peace process…whatever.