Israel Tilts Right

Posted Feb. 15, 2009, at 5:48 p.m.

Although the final results of Israel’s parliamentary election are not known, it is clear that the country has moved to the right. This complicates efforts, often led by the United States, to restart peace negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians.

With the center-right Kadima party winning 28 seats in the Knesset and the hard-line Likud party holding 27 seats — the numbers could flip when military ballots are counted — a coalition government will have to be formed. That could take weeks.

More telling, the ultranationalist Our Home party won 15 seats. It was popular among the country’s young voters. That party’s leader, Avigdor Lieberman, campaigned on a pledge of requiring Arab citizens in Israel to take loyalty oaths.

No matter whether Kadima, led by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, or Likud, headed by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, leads the new government, it will have a decidedly rightward tilt. Although Ms. Livni is the more moderate of the two potential prime ministers, she will have to lean to the right to work with the other parties Kadima would need to form a coalition government.

Tuesday’s vote came less than a month after a three-week Israeli assault on Gaza aimed at stopping Hamas from firing rockets into southern Israel. A tentative cease-fire remains in place.

“Israelis want a new direction,” David Horovitz, editor of the Jerusalem Post, wrote in that paper. “They feel that the current path of negotiating with a Palestinian Authority that lacks any real authority over the Palestinians is meaningless.”

As with past peacemaking efforts, the United States, led by special envoy former Sen. George Mitchell, the first task is to assure both sides that face-to-face meetings can produce results. This can be accomplished only by openly discussing major stumbling blocks to past negotiations. One is to de-termine what faction holds the most influence in the Palestinian territories. The Palestinian Authority has been most open to negotiations, but Hamas maintains control of Gaza.

On the Israeli side, an agreement must be reached regarding the continued building of settlements in the West Bank. What settlements will be dismantled? Which ones will stay? Will they continue to grow?

A more hard-line government does not mean that a peace agreement is not possible, but it means a new approach may be needed to keep the process going.

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