Shockingly, the Israeli public may have voted for the right not because it rejects the idea of peace deals, partition, and a two-state solution, but because it believes the right is better qualified to find a way to carry out that undeniably painful process. "The outcome of the elections indicates that Israelis view the 'peace process' with the Palestinians as a divorce process," writes economic analyst Elah Alkalai.
"As their unwilling embrace was arranged by global forces, so apparently will be their separation. Think of it as severance of an arranged marriage, and the vote Israelis cast last week was for what they perceive as the roughest, toughest divorce lawyer in town."
Avigdor Lieberman, the hands-down success story of the election, has repeatedly outraged the far-right by suggesting in the past that some heavily Arab-populated East Jerusalem neighborhoods and refugee camps be ceded to an eventual independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza [editor: not to mention his willingness to concede to the Palestinians Arab towns within the 1967 borders.] He has consistently alientated the ultra-Orthodox - an essential building block of any right-wing dream coalition - by demanding civil-marriage and modified Jewish conversion legislation favored by Lieberman's ultra-secular constituency.
Netanyahu's Likud, the anchor of a potential rightist coalition, has been on record for years as favoring an eventual Palestinian state in the territories, as long as strict security guarantees were met. The Likud is also the only party ever to have headed a government which dismantled established settlements. Only two parties, representing just seven seats in the 120-seat Knesset, still argue for a Greater Israel. Not even the fringe-right National Union with its frankly pro-Kahane wing, dares come out in public for a return to permanent Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip, stating in its platform only that "There will be no uprooting of Jewish communities and no surrender of parts of the Land of Israel in any subsequent Israeli government led by the party."
"In other words," Alkalai concludes, "the majority vote was cast for a leadership - the right wing - that the public thinks can end the relationship with the most assets for Israelis and preferably no alimony at all for the spouse."
The Israeli Left has lost the confidence of Israelis by persuading them to put their faith in a "peace process" premised on the assumption that the dispute with the Palestinians was primarily about land, and that if Israel was willing to withdraw from land appropriated in 1967, peace would ensue. That turned out to be overly simplistic, and perhaps very naive. I recall reading several left-wing Ha'aretz columnists who claimed during the Second Intifada that the underlying problem was that the Palestinians didn't believe Israel would ever withdraw from any of the "occupied territories." Israel subsequently did withdraw, from Gaza and part of Samaria, but this led to the election of Hamas in Gaza, not to the triumph of Palestinian doves. The left still clings to its paradigm, however. The Israeli right, meanwhile, has quickly shifted to what it is at least able to portray as a "realist" approach to the Palestinians. As is usual in politics, the side that has been better able to react to events on the ground, rather than sticking to ideological presuppositions, has won--which doesn't, of course, make it right.
[Disclosure: I don't know who I'd support if I were an Israeli. I'd want someone with the free market sympathies and communication skills of Netanyahu; the secularism and willingness to confront the fact that an ever-increasing percentage of Israelis, primarily Arab and ultra-Orthodox, have no loyalty to the state as currently constituted, of Lieberman; the military experience of Barak; and the moderation of Livni, without their myriad disadvantages, including the demonstrated diplomatic incompetence of Netanyahu and Barak, the demagoguery and penchant for outrageous statements of Lieberman, and the black-boxedness of Livni.]