No, Israel Did Not Just Vote for the Center

Why the Right Is Still Dominant

Yair Lapid at his party's headquarters in Tel Aviv. (Courtesy Reuters / Amar Awwad)

By the time Israeli voters went to the polls on Tuesday, the nearly universally accepted wisdom held that the right was ascendant. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's faction -- which comprises his own conservative Likud Party and Avigdor Lieberman's even-more-conservative Yisrael Beiteinu Party -- was poised to win almost twice as many seats as its closest challenger. Netanyahu's erstwhile chief of staff, Naftali Bennett, was leading the surging Bayit Yehudi, a right-wing nationalist party calling for the annexation of large swaths of the West Bank. These two parties alone were expected to win around 50 seats, which would put Netanyahu in a dominant position when it came to forming a governing coalition.

The parties considered to be left-wing and centrist, meanwhile, were floundering. The Labor Party, led by Shelly Yachimovich, was expected to win fewer than 20 seats -- likely becoming the second largest party in the Knesset but still not achieving anything close to the dominance it enjoyed in the 1990s under Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, and Ehud Barak. Hatnua, a new party chaired by Tzipi Livni, the former foreign minister who led Kadima to win more votes than any other party in the 2009 elections, seemed likely to take only a handful of seats. Yesh Atid, helmed by the former newsman Yair Lapid, was expected to pull in a respectable ten to 12 seats -- not bad for a newcomer but not enough to make much of a difference in the government. These three parties might have been able to defeat Netanyahu with a united front, but their leaders instead spent their time squabbling. All this -- together with a Likud primary that expelled the party's moderates and elevated its hardliners, the emergence of Bayit Yehudi as a viable party to the right of Likud, and the expected increased presence of settlers in the Knesset -- indicated that Israel was set to move further to the right.

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