Commentary

Elections in Israel and Jordan Maintain Status Quo

Middle East In Focus

Middle East In Focus

This week’s election in Israel has once again failed to yield a clear mandate. While the current right-wing Prime Minister, Benyamin Netanyahu, appears to be the likely winner, most observers in Israel expect or desire a broad, centrist government. Still, few in the Occupied Territories expect any major changes to come out of a new Likud-led government. Meanwhile, in Jordan, the country’s independent electoral commission has hailed recent elections as democratic, even as Islamist groups stayed home in protest. Whether the outcome will prove lasting remains to be seen, however.

It is perhaps telling of the paralysis and fractionalism that has stricken the Israeli political system that, with the exception of the meteoric rise of a former television journalist, very little else seems to have changed from before the election day. While PM Netanyahu is best positioned to lead the next government most agree his hands will be tied by the demands of his government allies. As Yedioth Ahranoth’s Baruch Leshem sees it, Netanyahu is both the victor and the loser of the elections: “In Tuesday's elections Likud hit another low. The significance of this is that after four and a half years in power, with a stable coalition, Netanyahu not only failed to strengthen Likud, he led to its regression....The government Netanyahu will be able to form will be an impossible coalition of contrasts. Netanyahu will have to decide who will hold him captive.”

Also expecting a ‘rough ride ahead’ for the current Likud leader, the Jerusalem Post editorial makes an open call for a national unity government: “The embarrassingly snookered Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu can on paper concoct a coalition, but his challenge is unenviable in the extreme. His apparently most viable alternative is to shield himself with Lapid on one side and the significantly more empowered (at his expense) Bayit Yehudi at the other. This would suffice for a majority and might suit him just fine....The desirable solution is as broad a coalition as possible, one in which no party can hold the government to ransom. In other words, we would like to see something approaching what is commonly dubbed a national unity government....Given proven past political proclivities, however, that is likely too optimistic.”

But for many in the Occupied Territories, it seems to make little difference what the latest iteration of the Israeli government will be like. In an op-ed for the Palestinian news agency MIFTAH, Mayse Jarbawi argues that if there is one thing the most recent elections in Israel proved, it was that “peace is not on the agenda.... The truth is, the Israeli elections and Netanyahu’s narrow win will impact the Palestinians whether they want them to or not. However, it is time the world stops looking to Israel to agree to a just solution to the conflict because, as the election results showed, Israel is just not interested. It is finally time that the international community put equity into effect.”

But Israel was not the only country in the region holding elections this week. Elections also took place in Jordan, where the secular forces led by the ruling monarch King Abdullah II have been pushing back against a Muslim Brotherhood-led movement with aims not dissimilar from their Egyptian kin. Unlike in Egypt, however (or perhaps because of the example of Egypt), the electoral outcome in Jordan this time around appears to have packed the parliament with supporters of the young monarch. It remains to be seen whether the elections will provide stability in the country or serve just as a rallying cry for the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies, most of whom stayed home this time around.

The country’s main daily, Jordan Times, hailed the elections as a step forward for democracy, while cautioning the new parliamentarians of the challenges that lie ahead: “When all is counted and accounted for, it can be said that yesterday’s elections were a success. For democracy, for citizens who availed themselves of the civic right to vote and for the organisers. At the end of the day, the legislative elections were a contest between those determined to make their voice heard, in the hope that things will change to the better in the country, and those who used their democratic right to boycott the process either because it did not suit their interests or in protest at the Elections Law....Parliamentarians need to understand that winning a seat is not an end in itself. It is the beginning of an arduous process during which they need to prove that they deserve the trust of the people and that they are up to the challenges of the times.”

In another Jordan Times article, Taylor Luck describes the Islamist presence as a ‘non-factor,’ while conceding that, given domestic challenges and the weak economy, their influence is bound to grow in the future: “After witnessing a regional resurgence, Islamist movements are to have little impact as Jordanians head to the polls on Wednesday, with internal divisions and boycotts leaving citizens with a field dominated by independent and tribal candidates. Despite their absence in this year’s polls, observers and voters say due to growing public frustration over corruption and weak political parties, local Islamist movements are likely only to gain in popularity in years to come. In contrast to the rise in power through the ballot box in Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco, Islamists have largely been no-shows in Jordan’s parliamentary elections.”

Others, like the Arab Times editor-in-chief Ahmed Al-Jarallah, have no doubt though that, by calling their bluff and holding new elections as the Muslim Brotherhood had demanded, Jordan’s king has exposed the Brotherhood’s lack of real popular support: “The malicious protests and campaigns that the Muslim Brotherhood has launched against the Jordanian government continued despite the decision of King Abdallah II to implement reforms and his determination to lead his country towards the Promised Land. He amended the electoral system, so the next elections will be held under the one-vote system. The fact that 70 percent of the Jordanian registered voters support the decision has unmasked the opportunity-seeking group....the Brotherhood remains isolated in its decision to boycott the elections, similar to what happened in Kuwait, because they have realized their popularity has waned drastically.”

But few believe that the Muslim Brotherhood’s challenge to the monarchy in Jordan will end with these elections. For Al-Hayat’s George Semaan, the elections only buy more time for both camps, acting as “a stop while awaiting Syria.... It is a stage of waiting and passing time, as both parties — the regime and the Muslim Brotherhood — are preparing for the phase that will follow the last round in Syria, one which has become imminent....they cannot be perceived as an event which will alleviate the opposition’s pressures, considering that the upcoming council will not be able to shut down the opposition arenas, while the latter will not be able to mobilize additional forces. Both sides involved in the standoff in Jordan need to buy time, and consequently a station in which they can wait until the situation becomes clear in the entire region.”


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