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Why elections in Israel may not bring better ties with US

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Israelis feel like they’re in a category 5 hurricane, given events in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Gaza, says David Makovsky, a senior fellow and director of Middle East peace process studies at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP). And in today’s Israel, “If you face a passing hurricane, you hunker down,” he says.

That contrasts with the US view, he adds, which is that “if you face a permanent hurricane, you can’t survive by hunkering down.” In other words, you have to move forward.

Mr. Makovsky, who spoke at a recent Washington event on the Israeli elections, notes that recent polls show a solid two-thirds of Israeli Jews see “no chance” for progress toward peace with the Palestinians in the foreseeable future.

“There’s been a move to the right” on the Palestinian issue, he says. That shift can be seen in how the left-of-center Labor Party largely dropped peace and other foreign-policy issues from its campaigning, he says, and in the rise of the right-wing Jewish Home party and its leader, Naftali Bennett, who advocates annexing much of the West Bank while opposing creation of a Palestinian state.

Robert Satloff, WINEP’s executive director, says Israel’s shifting views on the peace process make Netanyahu something of a “peacenik,” since he is the only prominent member of his Likud party who publicly supports reaching a two-state solution with the Palestinian Authority.

For Americans to better understand Israelis’ shift on peace, Makovsky compares it to the rise of the tea party in Republican politics and the impact that had on a foreign policy middle-of-the-roader like former Sen. Richard Lugar (R) of Indiana, who lost his primary battle last year to a more conservative candidate.

Other regional experts expect Israel’s shifting views to prompt Netanyahu to continue pushing ahead on settlement construction in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, despite the irritation that causes with the Obama administration.

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