Secretary of State Nominee John Kerry told senators at his confirmation hearing on Thursday: "I pray that maybe this will be a moment that will allow us to renew the effort to bring the parties to the negotiating table and go down a different path than the one they were on in the last few years. I would like to try and do that.”
Israeli officials say that they expect Kerry to be engaged personally. Ha’aretz reports that “Kerry will not appoint a special envoy for the peace process and will instead come personally to visit and evaluate the situation.” The paper reports that Kerry will likely visit some time next month.
One official told the paper, “President Obama does not intend to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian issue personally, and will give Kerry full authority, independence and support on the matter…If Kerry thinks there is a chance for progress in the peace process he will invest personal effort in it and will come to the region frequently. But if he sees after a few visits that there is no will from the parties to progress, he will go and deal with other issues such as Africa or relations with China and Russia.”
Israelis went to the polls on Tuesday, January 22 to determine the makeup of the new Knesset and the prime minister’s coalition. Experts predict that Israeli President Shimon Peres will select Benjamin Netanyahu to form the next government and in the coming weeks, we will be able to see what it will look like.
A quick recap of how the Israeli election system works: voters pick one party to vote for and every party that gets above 2 percent can get at least one seat in the Knesset. The proportion of the popular vote determines the number of seats each party receives. Shimon Peres, the president, picks the party leader most likely to create a 61-seat majority in the Knesset. He or she then has 42 days to finalize a coalition.
The selected leader courts other parties to convince them to join and vote for a coalition.
The election almost resulted in a tie between the right-religious parties and the center-left and Arab parties. Netanyahu will still be the prime minister, though he received less support than was previously projected. Former journalist Yair Lapid of the centrist Yesh Atid party was unexpectedly successful, and right wing Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett was less popular than anticipated.
Though Lapid’s platform appeared to support a two-state solution, the occupation in general was more of a sidebar in his campaign. Domestic issues such as taxes and affordable housing were the primary focus of his campaign. Lapid has stated that he is disinterested in engaging with a government that is not seriously invested in pursuing peace with the Palestinians. Lapid was quoted October, saying that “We are not looking for a happy marriage with the Palestinians, but for a divorce agreement we can live with”. On Thursday, Netanyahu offered Lapid the choice between Finance Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs. Lapid seems hesitant to take on foreign affairs, and others have pointed out that, based on his platform, his should be more interested in the finance role.
There have been widely contrasting viewpoints as to what effect the election results will have on the occupation. Most are pessimistic and argue that despite Lapid’s seemingly weak position for a two-state solution, Netanyahu’s settlement construction plans paired with Naftali Bennett’s strict opposition to the existence of a Palestinian state do not give much hope for an equitable solution. An editorial in the International Herald Tribune argues that there is still hope: “The vote suggests that if [the new government] is not [more receptive to a peace initiative], Israelis may give even more support next time to a centrist coalition not led by Mr. Netanyahu.” Therefore, there is great incentive for Netanyahu to make Israeli-Palestinian peace a priority of his new coalition. This theory is supported by a recent article that suggests Netanyahu is considering the exclusion of Bennett from his coalition in pursuit of peace. Jeffrey Goldberg expressed that “[he is] not expecting much movement on the peace process” and that peace negotiations are, at best, on the backburner of Israeli politics right now. Others argue that since the occupation was such a minor element to campaigns, it is really too soon to tell what a future coalition’s policies on Israeli-Palestinian peace might be.
In addition to these results, the recent election in Israel is also notable for who did not get to vote and, in some ways, who did and did not choose to vote.
In East Jerusalem, 255,000 Palestinian residents have no voting rights for Knesset elections. When the Israeli government annexed East Jerusalem and the surrounding villages in 1967, Palestinians were offered Israeli citizenship under certain conditions. According to B’Tselem, “These conditions include swearing allegiance to the State, proving that they are not citizens of any other country, and showing some knowledge of Hebrew.” For political reasons, including viewing the oath as acceptance of occupation, most Palestinians have not pursued citizenship. Therefore, on Tuesday while most Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem could only watch the results of the elections. The same cannot be said for the 186,929 Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem who had the chance to express their Knesset party preference.
There was a small movement during the election for liberal Israelis to “give up” their right to vote and instead vote on behalf of a Palestinian. In one example, 972 Magazine writer Liel Maghen cast his ballot according to East Jerusalem resident Aziz Abu Sarah’s wishes. On Tuesday, an estimated 2,000 Israelis participated in the initiative. East Jerusalem activist Bassam Aramin was one Palestinian who was able to “vote” in the election thanks to an Israeli. He says, “I hope that through this, more people will realize that what we’ve been living with for almost 46 years is not a normal situation, and it is not democracy. Perhaps this campaign will open up some debate about it.” Abu Sarah writes, “I can only imagine what would happen if more people like Liel take the same step, if they said: ‘If you don’t give equal rights to my Palestinian friend then I will give up my right to be equal with him or her.’”
Within the Green Line, 1,361,800 Palestinians citizens of Israel, 20 percent of the population of Israel, have voting rights. In this election, 56 percent of them exercised that right, the highest turnout in over a decade in Israel. Voting in Israeli elections is controversial among the Palestinian citizens of the country. For example, Nidal Jazmawi, who has lived his entire life in Israel, said he was abstaining because as part of the Palestinian minority he feels his citizenship is meaningless.
In the days before the election, the Cairo-based Arab League encouraged Palestinian citizens of Israel to vote to defeat “right-wing extremists.” Despite the push to get out the vote, the three Arab parties maintained their 11 seats from 2009. However, some estimate that if 90 percent voted they could gain up to 23 members of the Knesset, making them a serious power broker.
Arab member of the Knesset, Ahamad Tibi supported Arab-Israeli engagement in the political process saying, “In Israel, there is discrimination in every part of life — education, infrastructure, employment. In only one thing there is equal rights: the day of the election. One person, one vote, Jews and Arabs [within the Green Line]. Those who are not participating are shooting their own legs.”
The National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for Peace in the Middle East (NILI) has recently released a statement for endorsement that calls for action from United States government leaders to make the Palestinian-Israeli conflict a priority in the new presidential term.
On Wednesday, the Palestinians announced that they will take Israel to the International Criminal Courtif they continue with their plans to construct settlements in the E-1 territory. The International Criminal Court prosecutes claims of genocide, war crimes and other major human rights violations. Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki stated that"If Israel would like to go further by implementing the E1 (settlement) plan and the other related plans around Jerusalem then yes, we will be going to the ICC, we have no other choice. It depends on the Israeli decision."
The Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, released a report on Thursday stating that there were zero Israeli fatalities caused by terrorism in the West Bank or Jerusalem in the year 2012. This is the first time in forty years that no casualties in those areas have been recorded.
This week is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity! Christian Churches in Jerusalem have been holding Ecumenical celebrations throughout the week, following the theme of “What Does the Lord Require of Us?” Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem Suheil Dawanispoke to his congregation, stating that the Christians in the Holy Land and the Middle East “have been peacemakers, building a bridge of understanding, tolerance, and acceptance between diverse peoples. The peace we seek and pursue is one with justice at its core. We are the voice of the voiceless and our voice needs to be heard here and around the world, as we remind Christians and non-Christians alike, that God demands justice for all God’s children.”
Formed in 1984, Churches for Middle East Peace is a coalition of 24 national Church denominations and organizations, including Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant traditions. It works to encourage U.S. government policies that actively promote a just, lasting and comprehensive resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ensuring security, human rights and religious freedom for all people of the region.