The few who still believe that there can be a lasting peace between Israel and its neighbours were struck another blow in the Israeli elections on January 22nd. The largest party remains Binyamin Netanyahu’s right-leaning Likud-Beitenu party who took 31 of the 120 seats up for grabs. Though since 2009 Mr Netanyahu has failed to push for negotiations with the leaders of the West Bank and Gaza, Israel’s economy has weathered better than many others and although his party lost almost a quarter of their seats the most likely situation is for Mr Netanyahu to retain his place as Israeli Prime Minister. Unfortunately, what may be keeping him in power is an unpleasant new set of allies, even less keen than the outgoing coalition was on seeking a two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians.

Most worryingly, the far-right, religious ‘Jewish Home’ party gained 12 seats, up from just 3 in 2009, making them the fourth largest party in the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) and natural allies of Likud-Beitenu. Their leader, businessman Naftali Bennett has gone on record as stating that ‘I will do everything in my power to ensure that they [the Palestinians] never get a state,’ and proposes unilaterally annexing over sixty percent of the existing Palestinian territory as well as encouraging further settlement building in the West Bank and denying any right of return to Palestinians refugees who fled during the periodic bouts of fighting that mar the region.

Fortunately for those who wish to see Israel return to the bargaining table, Yesh Atid (There is a Future,) a new moderate, secular party led by former television talk-show host, Yair Lapid proved to be a success in their first election with 19 seats, though chaotic wranglings surrounding the collapsing liberal Kadima party and another new party under Kadima’s ex-leader, Tzipi Livni, led them to finish on just two and six seats respectively.

As usual in the fractious Israeli politics Mr Netanyahu faces tough days of coalition wrangling ahead. Unless Barack Obama and the other western leaders are prepared to push Israel in the right direction the unfortunate inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza may face tougher ones.

[Max Sefton]

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