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Israel after the elections: a predictable situation
14/06/07
MOSCOW. (Yevgeny Satanovsky, president of the Institute of the Middle East,
Russia).

Israel has just held a series of elections. In any other country, they would
have resulted in major changes in the political and economic situation, but
not there.

Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak has been elected, although by a small
margin, to lead the Labor Party (Avoda), a partner in the coalition with
Kadima, the largest party in the Knesset since the 2006 elections.

Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres, another former prime minister who was a
member of the Avoda party, has won the presidential election.

The political elite of Israel is so small that a political blunder will not
keep you from climbing back to the top of the political pyramid in, say, a
year, or at most five or ten years. It is almost impossible to lose your
place in the Israeli political elite.

This makes life easy for those who adjust their Middle East policies to
personnel reshuffles in Israel. They know what to expect from Barak as
defense minister, the post he will most likely take in the government of
Ehud Olmert, or from the aging Peres. They also know what Olmert, and his
main adversary, Benyamin Netanyahu, leader of the right-wing opposition
party Likud, want. The same is true about the other major political figures
in Israel, as well as the political "extras."

Only Ariel Sharon, who has become history, did not fit Israel's stereotypes.

Predictability is crucial for long-term forecasts. It is now clear that the
next Middle East war in which Israel participates, no matter how it plays
out or ends, will not ruin Israel's economy. It may slow down its growth and
will most certainly complicate the situation in some of its industries. But
the period of major post-war problems for the Israeli economy ended in the
1970s or 1980s.

Relevant examples are Palestine's al-Aqsa Intifada and the second Lebanese
war. The military-political leaders of Israel could not act more
unprofessionally than they did in the summer of 2006. But Israel survived
all their blunders, which means that it can survive anything.

Israel does not need more conflicts with its neighbors. A tragic mistake or
provocation, a combination of factors or pressure from Washington may push
it into another round of confrontation in the Middle East. But Israeli
governments - right- or left-wing, coalition or one-party - will never begin
a war of their own volition.

The only imaginable exception is a situation in which the military-political
leaders of Israel become convinced that Iran has acquired nuclear weapons
and is prepared to use them against Israel, acting on the threat made by
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to wipe the Zionist state from the face of the
earth.

A clash with Syria or Lebanon could be provoked by Iran, but is highly
unlikely in any other situation.

Relations with Palestinian groups, which have been attacking Israel from
Gaza and may shift their positions to the West Bank, are a particular
headache.

Palestine is being torn apart by a civil war. The Palestinian state exists
only on the drawing boards of international bureaucratic organizations (the
smaller the probability of establishing it, the harder they work to make it
possible) and the quartet of international co-sponsors of the peace process.


No serious Israeli politician will bet on that "dead horse." This is the
reality, but it does not mean that politicians won't make speeches about the
future of the peace process. This allows the intermediaries, mainly
Americans, to save face and gives the left-wing camp access to the leftovers
of foreign grants given for the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue.

If clashes between Palestinian clans, tribes and criminal groups stop
bothering Israelis, they will go on without the interference of the Israeli
army. If not, a new Israeli military operation in Gaza is as unavoidable as
the counterterrorism operations of the Israeli special forces in the West
Bank.

The situation in Israel will otherwise develop without major upheavals. The
Olmert government will finish its term, since no party in the ruling
coalition wants early elections that could deprive them of power.

The opposition is too small to be able to bring down the unpopular
government in a parliamentary way, and other scenarios of the kind that
regularly play out in the region are unlikely in Israel. The policy of
Netanyahu as prime minister will differ from that of Olmert only in his
choice of words.

In short, no major changes lie in store for Israel, unless it gets another
General Sharon.

This moderate stability is also the main element of Russian-Israeli
relations, promising gradual progress. I am referring to the possibility of
visa-free travel, the return of the Russian Orthodox Mission to the Russian
Orthodox Church, and bilateral economic relations.

The areas of progress are the same as in the 1990s: gas and electricity
supplies, joint projects in the sphere of military technology and
infrastructure, the diamond industry and high-tech sectors, as well as
mutual investments and cooperation in developing countries.

Since the potential of bilateral cooperation is significantly larger than
its current level, Russia and Israel have goals to work towards, and
predictability and stability could help them make progress.