Israeli election suggests political divisions remain

One can interpret Israel’s election results several ways. None offer a clear direction forward for the country. As messy democracies go, Israel boasts perhaps the messiest.

First the good news: Israel’s parliamentary system allows a voice for all factions of Israeli society. Right, left, Jew, Arab, religious, secular — all vote and all are represented in Israel’s Knesset.

However, this week’s election revealed deep divisions in Israeli society, especially when it comes to making peace with the Palestinians. Though Tzipi Livni’s Kadima Party won a plurality of seats, edging out presumptive frontrunner Benjamin Netanyahu, it now appears doubtful she can form a coalition government.

Netanyahu’s Likud Party may have the advantage over Kadima, more naturally aligning itself with right-wing and religious parties. If so, Netanyahu will likely emerge as Israel’s next prime minister.

Much hinges on the decisions of Avigdor Lieberman. The right-wing leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu Party came in a strong third in the balloting, making him the designated king- or queenmaker. As of Feb. 11, Lieberman has said he has not ruled out any “Zionist candidate” with which to align, though most analysts expect he will throw his support to Likud.

No matter one’s opinion of Netanyahu, if he becomes Israel’s next leader, we must respect the will of the people and the workings of Israeli democracy.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has expressed willingness to work with any Israeli government, even one led by the hawkish Likud party. Who knows? Maybe this is Netanyahu’s “Nixon in China” moment.

Already the world press, and certainly the Jewish press, has jumped in with analysis, criticism and hand wringing. Many are carping that this inconclusive election will stymie progress on peace talks and other key issues.

How easy it is for American Jews, sitting comfortably thousands of miles away, to second-guess the Israeli electorate. It reminds us of that old formula, “Two Jews, three opinions,” only taken to excess.

Israelis best understand their political and social circumstances. They’ve just gone through the upheaval of the Gaza incursion. They have no illusions about the geopolitical hurdles they now face.

Divided though they may be, voters there have made their choices. Israel’s mainstream leaders are pragmatists in search of viable solutions, and hard as it is for bitter opponents to work together, Israel’s parties will find a way.

They know they must.