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Garvan Walshe was National and International Security Policy Adviser for the Conservative Party until 2008. He is now studying for a PhD at the University of Manchester, and is managing partner at The Research Department, a consultancy.

It
was supposed to have been Naftali Bennett’s day. Mr Bennett’s pride in his
country and prejudice against the Arabs, we were told by his friends as much as
his enemies, represented the “new Israel,” confident in its strength, secure in
its Jewishness and in love with its high tech sector.

This
suited the Israeli right, who seemed the coming men. It suited the Israeli
left, whose pessimism about their own country went a long way to explaining
their dwindling share of the vote. And it suited the foreign policy
elite, for whom Israel disrupts an orderly Middle East that exists only in
their imagination.

This
right-wing Israel did not, according to President Obama, know its own best interests. William Hague, on election day,
warned that time for a two-state Israeli-Palestinian deal was running out.
Perhaps a year would be all that was left . The first time I heard a
foreign office official muse on the possiblity of a “one-state solution” I was
shocked; but it gets floated more and more often now. It’s not, I can only
presume, used as a serious proposal – the new state would be plunged into civil
war and we’d be back where we started, just with more Israelis and Palestinians
dead – it is, rather, a threat.


Had
Naftali Bennett indeed been an avatar of the new Israel and had the extreme
right in fact been the rise, threats of isolation might well have begun to
command broad international support. This idea of Israel, uninterested in
peaceful coexistence, may well hold sway in chancelleries and academia, trade
unions and the more left-wing media, but Tuesday’s election showed us that
Israelis lived in a different country. They voted as often on social issues, on
whether they tilted towards a secular or more religious society, and on
economic policy as on the “National Question”. Pragmatic centrists, who desire
peace as much as they think it unlikely, surged. The small, left-wing peacenik
Meretz party won 6 of the 120 seats. Mr Bennet’s hawks, 13. Labor, which ran on
social democracy and eschewed Israel’s national question, 15. The surprise was
a new party, led by broadcaster Yair Lapid, that won 19. All in all, pragmatic
centrist parties gained 48 seats. Netanyahu’s Likud’s alliance with the Russian
immigrant Yisrael Beitenu party fell to 31.

The
conventional wisdom is that Netanyahu, who still leads the largest Knesset
faction, would summon up the full power of his deal-making magic to remain Prime
Minister, and he has made it clear he would prefer a centre-right alliance with
Lapid. A far right coalition scraping together a bare majority by appeasing the
ultra orthodox parties’ unpopular demands for welfare spending and continued
exemption from military service would doom him to instability and eventual
defeat.

The
new government owes its shape to the chastened moderation of Israel’s centre.
Chastened by the Second Palestinian Intifada, a campaign of ferocious suicide
bombs detonated in cafes, bars and buses. Reinforced by the consequences of
Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza and southern Lebanon, with rockets fired on
Israeli cities from the land their troops had evacuated. Centrists see no
evidence that giving up land will secure peace. If they understand that more
Israeli settlements make a peace deal harder, their experience also teaches
that unilateral gestures of goodwill are unlikely to bear fruit, and that
however willing Mahmoud Abbas may be to negotiate peace, he lacks the capacity
to make any deal stick. As for Hamas, while they might have the capacity, they
certainly lack the will.

We
hear less, thanks to the Arab Spring, of the utter nonsense that resolving the
conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is the key to transforming the
region, but peace is still important for its own sake. Persuading the Israeli
centre of its practicality, rather than alarmism about time running out, is
what matters.

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