This morning, we know that Ehud Olmert will be the next prime minister, and that Binyamin Netanyahu’s chances of ever again being prime minister are close to nil. Throughout the campaign Olmert and Netanyahu traded sharp and personal jabs, accusing the other of blind ambition and a lack of fixed principles. Both had a point.
With respect to the issues, the Israeli electorate marginalized the so-called hard Right. Yisrael Beiteinu (12), NRP/NU (9), and Likud (11), together garnered only 32 seats, or a little over one-quarter of the Knesset. And neither Likud nor Yisrael Beiteinu ruled out the possibility of further territorial withdrawals. The lessons of the Gaza withdrawal have been reinforced: the religious Right and settler communities no longer enjoy the sympathy and support of the Israeli population.
But even though Olmert campaigned on an platform of further withdrawals, it is unclear that the elections provided him with the mandate he sought. Polls show that most Israelis oppose further unilateral territorial withdrawals. Even some of Olmert’s closest security advisors within Kadima, such as former Shin Beit head Avi Dichter, oppose further moves along the model of the Gaza withdrawal. In Dichter’s view, Israeli troops would have to remain behind even after dismantling settlements to prevent those areas from become launching pads for attacks on Israel’s populous central region.
Furthermore, it is far from clear that the government has the manpower or the funding to carry out the evacuation that Olmert has proposed. He has not hinted where the money would come from to compensate 80,000 settlers (more than ten times the number in Gush Katif) and carry out the evacuation. Meanwhile, former Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben Ami said last night that he does not believe that any Israeli government has the forces to remove 80,000 highly ideological and determined settlers from their homes. He is not the first to reach that conclusion.