Stopped at the Green Line

There are two cardinal founding truths of the State of Israel. First, with or without the exact contours of the 1947 UN partition plan, Israel was going to be a state like no other. Its establishment opposed by everybody else in its neighbourhood, Israel would need a miracle to come into being, survive the inevitable hostilities, and then continue to exist. Second, the founders of Israel envisioned, after Theodor Herzl himself, a secular, modern state reclaimed from the desert by hardworking people, with little time for religion. Zionism, as fathered by Herzl and as it existed till the Six-Day War of 1967, was a socialist-lite ideology that rejected not only the patience of the Haredim (ultra-Orthodox) to wait for the messiah to come and deliver unto them Israel but also the Haredim itself. And the more extreme of the Haredim didn't accept Israel.

When 99.8 per cent of Tuesday's votes had been counted, one half of Israelis were pleasantly surprised to see an acknowledgement of the two founding truths. They had been reconciling themselves to the inevitability of losing their country to the troublesome fringe — the ultra-Orthodox, the West Bank settlers, and the religious and ultra-right parties. They were disappointed with Binyamin Netanyahu, not because as prime minister he was worse than his predecessors, but because he moved into the tight embrace of his religious and ultra-right allies, sealed with his Likud's merger with former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel, Our Home) for the electoral list.

Likud, founded in the 1970s as a coalition of smaller rightwing outfits, was born of the exasperation with the Labour elite and its Ashkenazi establishment, which had ruled Israel since 1948, first as Mapai (which formed Labour in 1968 with two other parties), and then as the Labour Alignment. When Menachem Begin became PM in 1977, Revisionist (rightwing but still secular) Zionism had its first taste of power, and Israel took its first step in moving away from the narrative of the leftwing Kibbutzniks who had built it to the rightwing and religious settlers, who were inching towards the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. The 2013 election was the first, however, in which the settlers expected to assume power directly through their poster-boy, Naftali Bennett, whose ultra-nationalist HaBayit HaYehudi (The Jewish Home) — uncompromising on not allowing a Palestinian state and on crossing the Green Line — was predicted to finish second, making the software tycoon indispensable for Netanyahu, and a senior minister.

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