Shimon Peres, the President of Israel, is about to ask Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form another coalition cabinet, in the wake of the election last week. The new government is unlikely to have medium-term consequences that favour greater stability in the Middle East. Nonetheless, the success of the new Yesh Atid party is remarkable and encouraging – the name itself, “There is a future,” is a resonant message in a country exposed to existential threats.
From outside Israel, the main issues in that country appear to be questions of war and peace. In this election, however, for the first time in decades, foreign policy was not at the centre of the debate. The parties that highlighted the Arab-Israeli conflict did not fare well.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is still likely to lead the next government – the formation of coalition cabinets normally takes weeks in Israel – but the election has weakened him.
Yair Lapid, the leader of Yesh Atid, now has momentum and will probably obtain a major cabinet portfolio. He campaigned mainly on domestic issues, especially those that appeal to the concentrated (and largely secular) population in and around Tel Aviv, who are well aware that a shortage of public services and new infrastructure in their region correlates with government spending on settlements in the West Bank.
The new government can be expected to be less beholden to ultra-Orthodox groups and to hardline nationalists than Mr. Netanyahu’s previous governments. In particular, Mr. Lapid has a fair-minded plan for phasing out the exemption of ultra-Orthodox young men from military service – which has long been a sore point in Israel.
The prospects for an accommodation with the Palestinian Authority are still faint. The Palestinians self-defeatingly continue to demand preconditions for negotiations; an agenda with topics for discussion would certainly be desirable, but not premature decisions and conclusions.
The shift, however, to practical domestic issues holds promise for eventual compromise on the wider regional conflict. If Israeli cabinets cease to depend on de facto vetoes held by the most intransigent factions – and if the PA comes to its senses – there is serious hope for an accommodation.