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First Pages of Chapter Two: The Israeli-Palestinian Scene 2012–2013. 


Israel had many reasons for concern in 2012 in the wake of the revolutions and changes in the Arab world and the resistance against its aggression on the GS, in addition to the stalled peace process. Nonetheless, it had more reasons to feel satisfaction in 2013 as a result of the frustration that accompanied Arab revolutions and the success of the coup in Egypt, in addition to the re-launching of the peace process according to Israeli conditions, faltering Palestinian reconciliation, and the escalation of the stifling siege on the GS. This was accompanied by the victory of the right in the Israeli elections, adding to the suffering and pressures on the Palestinian people and their leadership.

This chapter attempts to draw the political map of the Israeli interior, in addition to outlining demographic, economic and military data regarding Israel. It will discuss the issues of aggression, resistance and the peace process during 2012–2013.

First: The Internal Israeli Political Scene

The internal Israeli political scene in 2012 witnessed several key events that had an impact on the political process for both 2012 and 2013.

1. The Partisan Landscape in 2012

2012 was characterized by active partisanship in Israel outside the Knesset framework, as pundits predicted the collapse of the Kadima Party,  the party founded by Ariel Sharon with Ehud Olmert and other politicians of the Israeli political spectrum. They also predicted that the right-wing in the Likud Party would become more radicalized under the leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu, as the extreme right-wing pro-settlement trend led by Moshe Feiglin  became so powerful that Likud was considered to be an incubator for settlers.

In contrast, the religious parties with their various orientations pressurized the Netanyahu government during 2012, threatening to dismantle the governmental coalition if the exemption from military service was cancelled for religious students. This threat implied the loss of trust between Netanyahu and these parties that had been part of his governments and the Likud governments for a long time. On the other hand, any destabilization of the pillars of the government could have lead to the formation of a secular government with Kadima, which Netanyahu is averse to, preferring to move the date of the elections forward in order to establish a new government.

The internal conflict in the Likud Party in 2012 affected the Netanyahu government,  as some party leaders alluded to a loss in their trust in him. They even threatened to separate Netanyahu from the ranks of the party and its institutions, if he did not follow the directives of the party to reject any compromise with the Palestinians and carry on with the settlement building. It is true that Netanyahu gave in to the demands and directives of his party, but he tried to strengthen his position by maintaining his government until the last possible moment.

In addition to this state of affairs within the Likud Party, a proposal for forcing religious students perform military service was put forth by the Yisrael Beitenu Party, led by Avigdor Lieberman, which is a radical far-right party mostly made up of Russian immigrants. Lieberman is known for his secular tendencies and his refusal to impose Jewish law or any of its components on the Israeli society.

Thus, the Netanyahu government was pressured by two opposing currents: The devout religious who rejected any change in the exemption of religious Jewish students from military service, as their study of the Torah is considered to be service; and the Yisrael Beitenu Party, which supported the enactment of the military service law and its imposition upon all Israeli youth.

To strike a balance between the two parties, prevent the fall of the government and avoid moving the Knesset elections forward, Netanyahu negotiated with the Kadima Party to enter into the coalition, thereby prolonging the life of his government, albeit temporarily. However, the entry of Kadima in the government coalition on 8/5/2012 led to a series of internal rifts within Kadima and the withdrawal of a number of politicians from the membership of the party, some of them joining other parties.  Because of the internal conflict in Kadima between Tzipi Livni and Shaul Mofaz, Livni withdrew from Kadima on 1/5/2012,  and announced on 27/11/2012 her return to public political life and the formation of a new party called the Movement (Hatnua) under her leadership.  Livni’s move strongly contributed to the decline of the Kadima Party, which had to withdraw from the government coalition on 17/7/2012, less than three months after joining it, to the backdrop of the continuing debate on the mandatory military service law for religious radicals.

After it became obvious to Netanyahu that his government’s days were numbered, he submitted a draft to move the parliamentary elections forward, which would mean the dissolution of Knesset and the start of preparations for elections.

Following the announcement that the parliamentary elections were to be moved forward,  public opinion polls in Israel pointed to the disintegration of Kadima and its potential disappearance from the partisan arena. The main factors that led to the breakdown and erosion of the Kadima Party consist of its founder’s coma in early 2006, followed by his death in early 2014, in addition to the alleged financial corruption of his heir at the head of the party, Ehud Olmert, who was tried before a court (and was later acquitted), and Netanyahu’s continued efforts to dismantle Kadima by encouraging the withdrawal of its members and their joining of the Likud. Some of them even received ministerial portfolios in his government.

The party received a severe blow when Tzipi Livni announced her withdrawal and the formation of a new party under her leadership, believing this would help her achieve a landslide victory and affect the partisan scene in Israel. Add to this that the current leader of Kadima, Shaul Mofaz, a former military man, proved that he was not capable enough to lead Kadima and lacked political experience. Hence, this party is expected to disappear from the political scene during the 20th Knesset elections.

Moreover, these polls revealed a reinforced right-wing and an increased stature and presence of the parties supporting the settlement project and the “Jewishness” of the state. The concept of an alliance between Likud and Yisrael Beitenu also developed,  aiming to gain the highest number of votes in order to facilitate the formation of a government without the need for coalitions with other parties, particularly the religious ones. Both parties approved the partnership and the formation of a single electoral list for Likud and Yisrael Beitenu. Voices within the Likud warned Netanyahu against taking such a step because his party would lose its position in favor of Yisrael Beitenu, but Netanyahu’s opinion tipped the balance decisively. Indeed, although this alliance has helped Netanyahu ensure that he will be the next prime minister, it weakens the Likud in terms of the number of seats it holds in the parliament.

Livni, who withdrew from the Kadima Party and formed a new party called The Movement  to counter the policy of Netanyahu and prevent his arrival to the post of prime minister, raised in her electoral program the issue of the necessity to activate negotiations with the Palestinians in a more serious manner, in order to reach a settlement of the conflict. However, public opinion polls predicted that The Movement would secure only a limited number of seats.

During the preparations for the 19th Knesset elections, a new party headed by Yair Lapid was formed on 30/4/2012 among the middle classes and the bourgeoisie of Tel Aviv. It was called Yesh Atid (There is a Future),  and its leader is a known media figure in Israel. He is the son of a famous Israeli media and political figure, Yosef (Tommy) Lapid, leader of the defunct Shinui Party. As for Yesh Atid, it has a secular agenda, which seeks to improve social and economic conditions, taking advantage of the social protests that took place in the summer of 2011. Regarding the negotiations with the Palestinians, the party’s position is approximately the same as the rest of the Israeli parties. Hence, it can be classified as a center party with rightist tendencies.

2. The 19th Knesset Elections and Their Repercussions

The 19th Israeli Knesset elections were held on 22/1/2013, with the participation of more than 30 electoral lists, of which only 12 managed to succeed in entering the Knesset, including the Arab lists.

Electoral propaganda did not put forward any new elements regarding domestic Israeli policy, and the slogans were those that are repeated from one election to another, such as improving the general economic situation, reducing unemployment, and increasing economic growth.

However, these elections carried several surprises: The joint Likud- Yisrael Beitenu list obtained only 31 out of 120 seats, while when the two parties had separate lists during the last elections, they obtained 42 seats in total. Likud’s share went down from 27 seats in the previous elections to 20 seats, while its partner Yisrael Beitenu obtained 11 seats.  Hence, Netanyahu was severely criticized and blamed by the members of his party. Nonetheless, the joint list retained the largest number of seats in the Knesset.

As for the second surprise, it consisted of the Yesh Atid Party  obtaining 19 seats, despite pre-election forecasts to the contrary. This meant that any government formed by Netanyahu would be forced to include Lapid.

The third surprise was when The Jewish Home Party (HaBayit HaYehudi) headed by Naftali Bennett obtained 12 seats. As expected, the Kadima Party practically collapsed, as it had 28 members in the Knesset previously and this figure was reduced to just two members, headed by Shaul Mofaz. The religious parties, such as United Torah Judaism (Yahadut Hatorah) and Shas, retained their seats in the Knesset, despite the fact that some polls had pointed to a possibility decline in their position.

The 120 seats in the 19th Knesset were distributed as follows: 61 seats for right-wing and religious political parties and movements (Likud-Yisrael Beitenu: 31 seats, The Jewish Home: 12 seats, Shas: 11 seats, and United Torah Judaism: 7 seats); 48 seats for the parties of the center and left-wing camps (Yesh Atid: 19 seats, the Labor Party: 15 seats, The Movement: 6 seats, Meretz: 6 seats, Kadima: 2 seats).

As for the Arab parties, they obtained 11 seats (Democratic Front for Peace and Equality (Hadash), the National Democratic Assembly (Balad) and the United Arab List). The following table shows the results of the 18th and 19th Knesset elections:

Netanyahu’s options were limited regarding the formation of his government. Indeed, the Yesh Atid Party imposed preconditions on entering the government, particularly the endeavor to bridge the gap between the religious and the secular regarding the military service. This was also demanded by The Jewish Home Party, and so Netanyahu found himself chained to a question to which he had always tried to find a compromise when the ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) parties were allied with him. But this time he found his hands tied by the harsh conditions of two parties that represent 31 seats, which was exactly equal to the size of his list (Likud and Yisrael Beitenu).

As for Tzipi Livni, the head of The Movement Party, she expressed her willingness to take part in the governmental coalition and abandon her personal struggles with Netanyahu, in order to restart negotiations with the Palestinians.

Thus, Netanyahu found himself faced with limited options for the formation of a new government under his leadership. The first option: To form a government composed of members from his party and the religious parties with 48 seats in an attempt to convince the Labor Party to enter into a coalition, with the aim of reaching 63 Knesset members in the coalition. But this option implies conflicts, especially between Yisrael Beitenu and the religious parties. The second option: Likud-Yisrael Beitenu, Yesh Atid, The Jewish Home, and The Movement, with a total of 68 seats. Therefore, Netanyahu preferred to form a right-center government (if we consider that Yesh Atid and The Movement fall within this category). For the first time in decades, a government was formed without any of the ultra-Orthodox parties.

Netanyahu fell under the grip of The Jewish Home and Yesh Atid. In an attempt to ensure that the latter would not lose control of the government, it set the condition that the government must be comprised of 20 ministers, excluding the prime minister. However, the government was formed of 21 ministers, who were later joined by Lieberman as foreign minister after his acquittal. Hence, there were now 22 ministers, or a total of 23 members of the government with Prime Minister Netanyahu. The ministerial portfolios were distributed as follows: 8 for Likud (including the prime minister), 5 for Yisrael Beitenu, 5 for Yesh Atid, 3 for The Jewish Home and 2 for The Movement. This meant that Netanyahu maintained the power and influence of both his party and his partner Yisrael Beitenu in the government, in exchange for concessions in the chairmanship and membership in the Knesset committees for the other coalition parties.

Yesh Atid obtained the finance and education portfolios, based on Lapid’s wish to improve the condition of the middle class, the majority of whom live in Tel Aviv, the city which witnessed social protests in the summer of 2011. As for education, the party planned to overhaul the education system, including high school exam guidelines, and university admissions.

It seems that Yesh Atid is a temporary phenomenon on the partisan scene in Israel, because it is not based on an existing and deeply-rooted ideology like The Jewish Home. Since this party was born as a result of the middle class protests, it was joined by those who did not find themselves in any other party, where many have personal interests or inclinations. On the other hand, the fact that the party’s founder, Lapid, obtained the finance ministry in the Netanyahu government may cause him to have disagreements and conflicts with many parties in the Knesset, and with certain segments of the population of Israel, because financial affairs in Israel represent a very sensitive issue, especially for religious parties that are used to receiving large budget allocations for their independent institutions. However, Lapid sought to change this, thus leaving an impact on the overall political climate.

It is worthy of note here that Yesh Atid deals tensely with negotiations with the Palestinians, which could lead to splits within its ranks and thus to the formation of separate lists by its dissident members. Therefore, this party’s situation will be similar to that of the Kadima Party. Yesh Atid will thus face serious challenges without any prior experience, and if it does not succeed in achieving all or part of them it will lose in the next elections.

On the other hand, The Jewish Home Party, formed as the successor party to Mafdal (the National Religious Party), has become stronger while it enjoys a wide popularity among the settlers and non-Haredi religious currents in Israel. The party was established as a continuity of the National Union (HaIhud HaLeumi)-Mafdal on the eve of the 17th Israeli Knesset elections in 2006, its central objective being to unite the ranks of the religious-traditional right-wing lists and parties, namely: Mafdal, Moledet, Tkuma, and Ahi. However, this move was unsuccessful, as The Jewish Home Party remained the representative of Mafdal only. Another attempt was made during the 19th Knesset elections in 2013, and the party won 12 seats, joining the current government coalition in the wake of this achievement.

In fact, The Jewish Home Party is not a temporary phenomenon on the partisan scene in Israel. Rather, it represents a renewal process for the formation of right-wing religious parties in view of influencing fateful political decisions, of which first and foremost is the prevention of any concessions toward the Palestinians and the consolidation of the settlement project and the “Jewishness” of the state. It is noteworthy that a number of Israeli Knesset members who belong to this party are settlers who live in the Israeli settlements of the WB. The voters in favor of this party are either former Mafdal members or those who belong to small right-wing pro-settlement lists and parties, in addition to those who are displeased at the Likud-Yisrael Beitenu union.

There is no doubt that The Jewish Home (as long as it is part of the government) will affect many decisions relating to the form of the state, especially the “Jewish state.” It is an issue that will continuously be used as leverage in international circles, and for which acceptance by the Palestinians, Arabs and the international community will be sought. This is in addition to the Haredim military service issue, while noting that the party’s stance toward this matter is in line with the decision of the Israeli government, though it calls for taking into account the Haredim’s specific wishes.

The 19th Knesset elections in 2013 carried no change in the division of seats among the Arab parties compared to the 2009 elections. Democratic Front for Peace and Equality and the United Arab List each obtained four seats, and the National Democratic Assembly obtained 3 seats.  The 19th Knesset also comprised 18 deputies from the Palestinians of 1948 as follows: 10 from Arab parties  and 8 from Jewish parties, including 6 Druze. 790 thousand Palestinians of 1948 are entitled to vote (14% of those eligible to vote in Israel),  while the number of Palestinians of 1948 constitutes 16.6% of the population of Israel.

The Arab parties obtained 77% of the total valid Arab votes in the 2013 elections compared to 82% in 2009. The share of the Arab parties amounted to 84% of the votes of Palestinian Arabs living in Arab towns and villages, compared to 87% in 2009; 18% in Arab Druze towns and villages compared to 17% in 2009; and around 80% in the mixed towns and coastal cities.

2013 ended with a drastic change in the leadership of the Labor Party. Isaac Herzog, who is the son of Chaim Herzog (former Israeli president and renowned politician) and the grandson of the former Chief Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog, defeated Shelly Yachimovich.  This loss represented a blow to Yachimovich’s socialist approach that refuses to participate in Netanyahu’s government without compelling conditions for a peaceful settlement with the Palestinians.

Yachimovich’s loss of the leadership of the Labor Party suggests that solid blocs of old members from the party are able to express their dissatisfaction with its approach and orientation that is focused on social issues. It is why they sought, along with their supporters, to achieve an inside coup. As for Herzog, he is broadly active in the party’s various branches, especially as he promotes a political, economic and social agenda. There is no doubt that the Labor Party made some achievements in the 19th Knesset elections in terms of bringing back many supporters, thus increasing its strength in the Knesset, but Yachimovich’s refusal to take part in the government coalition contributed to the weakening of her position and leadership, as many leaders in the Labor Party called for joining the Netanyahu government based on the claim that the party could then have the ability to influence political decisions.

Chapter Two: The Israeli-Palestinian Scene 2012–2013 

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Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 21/4/2015