Monday, March 16, 2015

Peace Process Amid Elections in Israel

In December 2014, the current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for new elections two years ahead of schedule as tensions over the “Jewish state” bill proposing to declare Israel as "the nation state of the Jewish people" threatened to undermine his leadership. Netanyahu and his right wing, hawkish Likud Party does now fight to be re-elected. His biggest opponent is the Zionist Union, a centre-left alliance between Issac Herzog’s Labour Party and Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah, a part founded in 2012 to present an alternative to voters frustrated by the stalemate in peacemaking.

Prospects of Land-for-Peace

While many international observers and politicians view the peace process as Israel’s most prevalent political issue, there seems to be little demand amongst the Israeli population for peace with the Palestinians and the outcome of the election will thus rather depend on the parties’ economic policies. BBC’s Middle East correspondent, Kevin Connolly, writes that ‘the moribund state of the vexed peace process between Israel and the Palestinians has never felt like a major campaign issue’. However minor in the run-up to the elections, the prospects for a re-instigation of the haltered peace process will depend heavily on the outcome of the election as Netanyahu and his party moves further and further away from traditional peace proposals.

Israel’s current Prime Minister, who six years ago still embraced the concept of the ‘Two-State Solution’, recently used the unstable situation in the Middle East with ISIS continuing to fight in Iraq, Syria and Libya to explain that for his government the idea of a Palestinian state has lost its viability. He argued that a newly founded state would be vulnerable to be taken over and used as a battleground by militant extremists. The New York Times published an article today, March 16th, stating that Netanyahu authorized the construction and extension of the heavily criticised settlement Har Homa in one of the southern neighbourhoods of Jerusalem. It was part of campaign launched to rally support amongst right-wing voters, who oppose a Palestinian state and hence any negotiations aiming at establishing a Palestinian state in exchange for peace. Both settlements and the ownership of Jerusalem remain two of the main obstacles for peace between Israel and its occupied territories.

While the future of the peace process remains unclear independent of the outcome of tomorrow’s election, recent events and developments indicate that in case of a Likud success the prospects for peace look dire.

Arab Israeli Vote

While Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank do not have the right to vote, the Arab population in Israel, the descendants of those who in 1948-49 remained on the territory, which became Israel, makes up 15% of the electorate and will thus influence the outcome of the election. Traditionally, most of the Arab population’s votes were divided amongst three Arab parties. For this election, however, the Arab parties joined forces with its leader Ayman Odeh stating that their number one objective is to end the current premiership of Netanyahu. If the Arab list is successful – recent polls indicated that they are able to win between 13 and 15 seats in the Knesset – the prospects to revive the peace process are likely to increase as they promised to emphasize the issue and aim to enshrine it again on Israel’s national agenda.

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