Israel’s Election, Mitchell’s Headache

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

James Besser in Washington

Can’t you just imagine the hangover George Mtichell woke up with this morning?

Here he is, all perky about his new job as special U.S. Mideast negotiator and ready for a second trip to the region, and what does he get? An Israeli electoral muddle in which just about the only thing that’s clear is that the next government will be either unable or unwilling to move forward with the kind of negotiations Mitchell’s bosses at the White House and Foggy Bottom want.

It will almost certainly be weeks before hard bargaining can produce the outlines of a new government, months before it is in place and operational. And chances are it will be yet another transient government, here today and gone tomorrow. This is, after all, a country that’s gone to the polls five times in ten years.

And more than that: the peace camp was trounced on Tuesday (Labor seems in danger of extinction, Meretz has become a complete non-entity). While the nominally pro-peace process Kadima faction edged out Likud in the number of Knesset seats, Likud and the right wing and religious parties won the largest number of seats, and hence have the greatest likelihood of creating a new government that will last more than milliseconds.

Livni’s only hope for creating a government may be putting together a broad Labor-Kadima-Likud unity coalition. But with Likud claiming victory and Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party surging past Labor, it’s hard to see what the incentive is for Netanyahu to join such a weird agglomeration.

And if Livni does pull it off, her government will be so paralyzed by deep ideological differences that it would be unable to respond to new U.S. initiatives or Palestinian overtures.

It all adds up to a huge headache for George Mitchell and the administration he represents. It’s not hard to predict what happens next: some stiff-upper-lip talk from Washington about how Mideast peace remains a top priority and some more sightseeing trips for Mitchell, while in reality the new administration turns its attention to problems with a greater chance of being resolved.

And in the wake of Israel’s electoral muddle, even the housing and financial crises and global warming seem more solvable than the Mideast mess.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.