1) Election analysis
The New York Times reports on the Making of Israel's New Power Broker, Yair Lapid:
Mr. Lapid's campaign hardly challenged Mr. Netanyahu's policies on the Iranian nuclear threat, the tumult in the Arab world or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This was the first election in memory in which such existential security issues were not emphasized, as a growing majority of Israelis see them as too tough to tackle. Even Mr. Netanyahu barely spoke about Iran, his raison d'être. Instead, voters and analysts alike said Mr. Lapid had captured the hearts of Israel's silent majority with his personal charm and a positive, inclusive message that harnessed the everyday frustrations that fueled the huge social justice protests in 2011. One pollster found that about 40 percent of Mr. Lapid's supporters defined themselves as right-leaning, and in Israel's coalition system, many saw his success as a tactical move by voters not to oust Mr. Netanyahu but to nudge him to broaden the agenda.
Are the "existential security issues" really viewed as "too tough to tackle?" It seems more likely that Israelis don't necessarily assign them the same importance that reporters for the New York Times do. The reporter more likely is correct that the surge of support for Yesh Atid was to get Netanyahu to "broaden the agenda."
The Washington Post reports that Israel's new political star champions middle class:
Although he has put domestic issues first, Lapid says Israel cannot allow a continued impasse in peace efforts, and he suggests that they should be revived along the lines of previous Israeli proposals. He favors a return to talks with the Palestinians to reach a two-state solution to the conflict but says the deal should leave large Jewish settlements in the West Bank under Israel's sovereignty, with possible land swaps. To drive that point home, he launched his election campaign in Ariel, a large settlement town deep in the northern West Bank.
Though Lapid may advocate new peace talks, his views are consistent with Netanyahu's - as well as the Israeli consensus - and the idea of keeping "Jewish settlements" would seem to be a non-starter for Mahmoud Abbas. (By the way the idea of keeping settlements with land swaps was also that of Avigdor Lieberman who's views are usually described as "ultra-nationalist" or otherwise "extreme."
Roger Cohen is thrilled with the results. In The Israeli Center Lives, Cohen can barely contain his glee that Netanyahu has been rebuked by the voters. In addition, he writes:
The Israel that emerged from the vote is not the rightward-drifting, annexationist-tending, religious-lurching nation it has become fashionable to portray. The Jewish state, far from moving right, turned toward the center. It is tired of the old guard, embracing new political parties. It is impatient with the free-loading ultra-Orthodox who do not serve in the army but do soak up welfare. It has sufficient lingering interest in a two-state peace to split roughly down the middle on the issue.
Yes it has been fashionable to portray Israel like that. Like the writer who recently opined: Netanyahu may be returned to power in elections this month at the head of an even more right-wing coalition. Who was that? Why it was Roger Cohen! Never mind that Cohen has no idea what Israel is about, why couldn't he at least write explicitly, "I was wrong about Israel?" A New York Times editorial, Israel's election, shows the editors' one track mind:
Still, there is a reason to hope that the new government could be more receptive to a peace initiative. The vote suggests that if it is not, Israelis may give even more support next time to a centrist coalition not led by Mr. Netanyahu. Mr. Lapid has been skeptical of the Palestinian leadership's willingness to negotiate and has not made peace talks a priority. But he supports a two-state solution and renewing peace talks that have been frozen for four years. At least Roger Cohen in his own clumsy way acknowledged that Israel's political center is strong. The editors of the Times can't get away from the peace process. Do they consider the possibility that if a moderate like Yair Lapid is "skeptical of the Palestinian leadership's willingness to negotiate" maybe the problem with peace talks is not Israel's fault?" Why didn't Netanyahu perform better? In Israel's Election: Netanyahu Holds On, Center Does Well, Barry Rubin writes:
Netanyahu's decision to combine with Avigdor Lieberman's party was probably a mistake, driving moderate liberal voters to Lapid. With Lieberman being indicted, his party would have gone into crisis and many or most of its voters would have gone over to Netanyahu without him having to give anything in return. Evelyn Gordon writes in It's the Cost of Living, Stupid:
The Jerusalem Post's Herb Keinon has an excellent analysis of just how dominant domestic considerations were in this election. As he noted, the parties that significantly increased their parliamentary representation–Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid, Shelly Yacimovich's Labor and Naftali Bennett's Jewish Home–campaigned almost exclusively on domestic issues. Even Bennett, who is unfairly caricatured overseas as representing "the extreme right," ran mainly on domestic issues, capitalizing on his record as a successful high-tech entrepreneur. In contrast, parties that ran on diplomatic/security issues–Netanyahu's Likud, Tzipi Livni's Hatnuah and Shaul Mofaz's Kadima–did poorly, aside from one exception: Meretz picked up the diehard peacenik votes Labor lost by focusing on domestic issues.
The same conclusion emerged from another Post reporter's visit to the former Likud stronghold of south Tel Aviv (the city's poorer neighborhoods): Person after person praised Netanyahu on security issues but panned him on bread-and-butter ones, and cited that as their reason for abandoning his party.
In an article for Commentary following the socioeconomic protests of summer 2011, I detailed the many pressing domestic issues Israel faced and warned that Netanyahu would be judged on whether he exploited the protests' momentum to address them. As it turns out, he didn't–and especially not the one most important to Israelis, the high cost of living. That partly explains how Lapid could come from nowhere to win 19 seats by running on pledges such as "Our children will be able to buy apartments" and "We'll pay less for gasoline and electricity."
Consistent with what the New York Times wrote about "broadening the agenda," Gordon continues:
Equally important, however, is that Israeli voters tend to vote tactically. And with Netanyahu seemingly a shoo-in for the next prime minister, they primarily focused on trying to ensure that his next coalition would be both willing and able to carry out the needed domestic reforms.
As far as what comes next, Israel Matzav notes that coalition discussions are focused on neither the peace process nor Iran. He also makes a number of points about drafting Haredim that are well worth reading.
2) What the media got wrong
Walter Russell Mead writes in MSM Bungles Israel's Election:
The story as far as we're concerned is the spectacular flop of the West's elite media. If you've read anything about Israeli politics in the past couple weeks, you probably came away expecting a major shift to the right—the far right. That was the judgment of journalists at the NYT, WSJ, BBC, NBC, Time,Reuters, Guardian, HuffPo, Slate, Salon, Al Jazeera, and countless others. The most shameful piece of journalism that got furthest away from the facts was David Remnick's 9,000-word feature in last week's New Yorker, detailing the irrevocable popular rise of Israel's radical right.
That didn't happen. The ultra-right lost big time, while the centrists gained significant ground—so much so that Bibi now has the option of forming a coalition government without the ultra-Orthodox Haredim. While Bibi can certainly form a traditional right-wing government, there's a strong possibility for a broad centrist government comprised of Likud, center-left Yesh Atid, and center-left Hatnua.
Dylan Byers covered this in Politico:
Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker, wrote about the election again today, after the fact. He attributes the high turnout on the center-left in part to "fear of [the] hard-right coalition" he wrote about in the feature, but doesn't offer the sort of mea culpa Mead may have been looking for.
So is Remnick, perversely, taking credit for the election results? Is he saying he helped raise awareness of the right wing threat?
If anything Remnick further validates Adam Garfinkle's observation about the media cited by Mead:
"We see what we expect to see, and we disattend (pardon the jargon) what does not fit with our framing of the situation. . . . If we're sure that our range of expectations excludes a particular outcome, we will not see evidence of it until too late."