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A very wise man once quipped, “Historians have enough trouble predicting the past, so don’t ask me to predict the future.” The same holds true for predicting elections, and Israel’s voters did not disappoint.
What we do know is that multiple levels of the status quo were upset. The new Knesset includes shifts in the balance between young and old, domestic vs. foreign policy, and right vs. left – with the big winner a newly emergent center.
The one carryover is Bibi Netanyahu himself, despite the pummeling that his party took. With all other bets off, everyone knew that he would still be the Prime Minister the morning after.
Why? Forget massive campaign chests, inspired television spots, or ironclad political polls.
Beyond Iran's genocide-threatening Mullahtocracy, Netanyahu owes much of Middle Israel’s support to Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Morsi, Hamas , 60,000 dead Syrians and US President Barak Obama. The signals they have sent means for most Israelis, that their dangerous neighborhood still demands a tough-talking prime minister.
Spurning the direct negotiations memorialized in the 1993 Oslo agreement, Palestinian Authority’s Mohamed Abbas in effect shredded those accords by going directly to the United Nations tosupport its unilateral declaration of statehood.
Instead of recognizing his Jewish neighbor’s storied history in the Holy Land, he leads a campaign to deny there ever was a Solomon’s Temple, or prophets named Isaiah or Jeremiah who walked the streets of ancient Jerusalem.
He and his allies are hard at work urging the UN to have holy places including Rachel’s Tomb – Jewish since Biblical days, two thousand years before Mohammed - declared Palestinian historical sites.
By naming streets after Palestinians who blew up Israeli schoolchildren Abbas’ Palestinian Authority has convinced many Israeli taxi drivers that it can’t bring itself to recognize Jewish neighbors as human beings, let alone become partners for peace.
But Abbas’ final signal of who he is and what he really represents is what he said to his own people. Tens of thousands of Palestinians are caught between a murderous Syrian dictator with a penchant for slaughtering his subjects, and jihadist rebels who don’t like Palestinians. Israel offered them safe passage to the West Bank and Gaza, to literally save their lives, with the only proviso they renounce claims to a right of return to Israel proper. Abbas reaction? “It is better they die in Syria than give up their right of return.”
Israel’s longest and most important (cold) peace partner is Egypt. It’s new leader, Muslim Brotherhood–trained Mohamed Morsi has been sending Israeli voters mixed signals. On the one hand, he helped broker the recent ceasefire with Hamas. On the other, hand the USC graduate said this in 2010: We “must not forget to nurse our children and grandchildren on the hatred of Zionists and Jews," calling them “the descendants of apes and pigs.”
Having been called out by the Obama administration and visiting US Senators, he sought to explain that he wasn’t condemn all Jews, just Israelis and Zionists. Such sentiments invoke memories on the Israeli street more of Nazi propaganda minister Julius Streicher that Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Anwar Sadat. Israelis ask themselves: Is this a leader to be trusted to deliver democracy and hope and quiet on his borders? Do we?
Meanwhile, Hamas, which hurled 8000 rockets into Israel’s south since Israel’s Gaza withdrawal, can also be credited with pushing Israelis to the right. Two of those rockets were game changers. The first targeting Israel’s progressive center, Tel Aviv, sent many shocked citizens in Israel’s heartland running for cover and Bibi’s embrace. The other was aimed on a Sabbath eve in the direction of Jerusalem’s Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock and Arab neighborhoods in Israel’s capital. Hamas’ brutal message was blunt: Nothing and no one would stand in the way of their goal—Holy sites and Arab communities be damned—we aim to destroy Israel and kill the Jews.
Some Americans also unwittingly contributed to Mr. Netanyahu’s dominant position. A consortium of liberal Protestant denominations petitioned Congress on October 5th, to cut back military aid to Israel. It questioned whether Israel was using the aid properly -- just as Jerusalem was scrambling to thwart the increase in rocket barrages from Gaza. These same churches had little, if anything, to say about the 60,000 who have been killed recently in Syria, or the ethnic cleansing of Christians from Iraq, or their slaughter in Nigeria.
And finally, there is President Obama himself, who still smarting from what he perceived as Netanyahu’s interference on behalf of Mitt Romney in the US presidential election, may have wanted to return the favor. When he said "Israel doesn't know what its own best interests are,, President Obama only succeeded in angering Israelis whose 18-year-old sons and daughters daily endanger their lives protecting Israel’s borders.
However the new coalition shakes out in Jerusalem, from right-leaning to center, Israelis, with Prime Minister Netanyahu at the helm, are prepared for two eventualities. The less attractive one is maintaining the status quo in a roiling region. On the other hand, if a Palestinian leadership shows up interested in a final deal with a new Arab state living in peace and full recognition with its Jewish democratic neighbor, Israel will respond quickly and enthusiastically.
*This essay was co-authored by rabbi Yotzchok Adlerstein, the director of Interfaith Affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center