Attempts to reach a peaceful resolution to the territorial dispute between Israel and Palestine have proved so far unsuccessful. When peace talks between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority broke down in 2010, following the refusal of Israel to continue its commitment stop building illegal settlements in the West Bank, the situation seemed unlikely to be resolved any time soon.
Israel went to the polls on Tuesday, with the possibility of renewing the hope of Israelis and Palestinians alike. Would they help progress be made towards a peaceful and just resolution to the dispute, which has gone unresolved for over half a century and claimed countless lives?
Here’s an analysis of the results, looking at how the 120 seats of the Knesset are shared out and with a description of the party political views towards the issue of Palestine.
Right wing parties
- Likud-Beiteinu (31 seats) : A coalition of Lukid and Yisreal Beiteinu formed after the 2009 election to secure a majority government ahead of the winning Kadima Party.
- Likud : The major right wing party of Israel sees the river Jordan as the natural boundary to Israel. The party supports settlers in the West bank and Gaza, and encourage the expansion of settlements as access to the land is seen as an inherent right of Jewish people
- Yisrael Beiteinu : Supports a two state solution, which includes the exchange of largely Arab parts of Israel for Largely Jewish parts of the West Bank. Uprooting settlers in the west bank is not part of Yisrael Beiteinu’s plan.
Netenyahu, speaking as the leader of the newly founded Likud-Beiteinu coalition in 2009, said the coalition supported a Palestinian state, but with strict conditions attached. “The territory controlled by the Palestinians will be demilitarized, namely without an army, without control of its airspace and with effective security measures to prevent weapons smuggling.”
- Habayit Hayehundi (12 seats) are opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state. This party believes that the only 2 proposed solutions to territorial disputes; the creation of a Palestinian state, and the annexation of the West bank are not possible because they would pose a threat to the state of Israel. This party is opposed to Bedouin Arab settlements in Israel, and campaigns to change the law to inhibit their activities, but supports Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories.
- Shas (11 seats) are the representatives of Sephardic and Misrahi Jews. Any plan to cease settlement activity in the West Bank, or to recognise a Palestinian State is opposed by this party. Ovadia Yosef, founder and spiritual leader of Shas said in 2010 that “Palestinians were evil and bitter enemies of Israel, and all these evil people should perish from this world.” Though he later apologised for this, his sentiments were made clear.
- United Torah Judaism (7 seats) represents Haredi Jews. They neither support nor oppose the expansion of settlements in Palestinian territories. The party is however against the recognition of a Palestinian State.
- Yesh Atid (19 seats) is fronted by a former TV talk show host. Running for the first time this year, they campaigned on the basis of revoking exceptions from military service for orthodox Jews, and reducing government subsidies for ultra-orthodox institutions. Yesh Atid supports a two state solution, but do not wish to uproot Israeli settlers already in the West Bank.
- Labour (15 seats) supports the establishment of a Palestinian State. They hold the belief that territorial compromises are necessary from both sides to ensure the security of both Israelis and Palestinians. The party is not completely united as to the compromises that need to be made, and some factions do support settlements in the West Bank.
- Hatnuah (6 seats) believes a two state solution is necessary for the peace and security of Israel. Livni, the leader of the party believes the involvement of the US and the EU in the negotiations is essential to success.
- Meretez (6 seats) argue for Israel’s immediate recognition of a Palestinian State. This party sets out a 5 year timetable for Israeli and Palestinian governments to reach agreement on security and economic policies, as well as for the fair distribution of resources.
- Kadima (2 seats) support the 2 state solution. The leader of this party argues that permanent borders between the state of Israel and the state of Palestine are essential in order to resolve the conflict.
- United Arab List (4 seats) support the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza strip. The party argues that East Jerusalem, which was under Jordanian rule until 1967 when it was taken by Israel, should be Palestine’s capital city.
- Hadash (4 seats) was one of the first Israeli political parties to suggest a two state solution. The party believes that all occupied territories should be returned, including the Golan Heights, a territory taken from Syria in the 6 day war to which 17,000 Palestinian refugees fled.
- Balad (3 seats) propose the most controversial plan (at least in Israeli politics) of all the parties who won seats. They argue for a two state solution, by which all contested occupied territories are returned. The party sees Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state, and Israel granting the right of return to all Palestinians.
The natural position of right wing, and ultra-orthodox parties is predominantly to oppose a Palestinian state; conversely, the centre-left and Arab parties support a two state solution (though each party has its own view of the best approach). With Benjamin Netenyahu confirming that the Lukid-Beiteinu coalition conditionally supports a two state solution, the 19th Knesset will see a majority of ¾ who wish to see the establishment of a Palestinian state in one way or another.
This does not mean, however, that any progress will necessarily be made. The previous elections saw 56% of the electorate voting for a party who favours the two-state solution. Nonetheless, when it came to the vote on whether Palestine should be granted observer status in the UN, Israel voted no and lobbied for others to do the same.
The proportionally-representative electoral system in Israel works to hinder progress. Though it can be seen as fundamentally more democratic than the first-past-the-post system used in the UK, the problems associated with such a system means that carrying out the will of the people is easier said than done. The UK rarely sees an election result without a majority, and when it does, a coalition of just two parties will usually suffice to form a government.
In Israel, the closest any single party has ever come to winning a majority in the Knesset is the Alignment party in 1969 with 56 of 120 seats. Coalitions are essential for the government of Israel to function effectively.
The problems with coalitions are evident in the UK today. Parties have to compromise in order to form a coalition, and it is unlikely that all parties will carry equal weight in the decision making process. The Liberal Democrats promised not to increase tuition fees under any circumstances before the election, but as a compromise in the coalition agreement, did. Further decisions made as a result of a compromise are not always honoured. We have seen this with the failure to implement Lords reform or changes to constituency boundaries.
In Israeli politics, it is rarely a coalition of just two parties, meaning the agreements and compromises are much more complex and much tougher to reach. Any party represented in the Knesset may hold the key to an overall majority, and therefore can have a great influence on policy regardless of how many seats they hold. The ultra-orthodox parties had influence disproportionate to the number of seats they held in the previous Knesset, which could explain why Yesh Atid did so well in this election.
Though the results of the election are now in, the government has not yet been chosen. The most frantic week in Israeli politics has commenced, where deals are cut, compromises made, and a ruling coalition established. Netenyahu may form another coalition with the ultra-orthodox parties, which is likely to pursue the continued expansion of settlements in the West Bank and unlikely to see any progress towards a peaceful end to the territorial dispute.
However, the incumbent Prime Minister is currently in talks with Yesh Atid. If a coalition were to be formed between these two parties, it would create an opportunity to drop the ultra-orthodox parties and still hold a majority, increasing the likelihood of a more liberal government. This could lead to circumstances under which the resumption of peace talks would be a possibility.
Even if the outcome of negotiations is another religious, right-wing government, there are still signs that there is potential for progress in the future. Firstly, a recent poll shows two-thirds of Israelis support the two state solution, showing there is a desire in Israel to appease Palestinians to some extent. Finally, with 59 seats, the centre-left and Arab parties were extremely close to winning a majority. In four years time, they may just tip the scales. This government would have worked to cease the construction and expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and paved the way for the resumption of peace talks, with the aim of all parties involved being to establish a Palestinian state.