PS: But of course much of the media coverage and analysis continues to insist on themes that have nothing to do with reality. Here's the AP piece by Josef Federman:
"In a stunning setback, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-line bloc fared worse than expected… possibly forcing the incumbent Israeli leader to invite surprisingly strong moderate rivals into his government and soften his line toward the Palestinians."
By prevailing standards this is relatively moderate since it at least admits Israelis voted for moderate parties (others continue to insist that the election proves Israel is right-wing, anti-democratic, and anti-peace). But the label "hardline" is editorializing (anyone see the major mass media outlets talking about a hardline Hamas or a hardline Muslim Brotherhood?).
It is not in the least bit surprising that more liberal parties did well because they always do. The only surprise was the distribution of the votes, particularly the large number received by Lapid's party. Incidentally, Lapid's views are not that far from those of Netanyahu--as voters knew. For example, he is suspicious of the Palestinian Authority's willingness to make peace and wants to retain settlement blocs in the West Bank.
And if one understands the real situation then what happened it wasn't a "stunning setback" for Netanyahu. I've spoken to dozens of voters and a large number said something along the following lines:
We knew Bibi would win so we voted for the party we wanted to be his coalition partner.
Those more liberal voted for Lapid (though some consciously chose Livni or even Labor for that purpose) while those more on the conservative side voted for Ha-Bayid ha-Yahudi. But these voters, around 25 percent of the total (I'm including only Ha-Bayit ha-Yahudi and Lapid voters here) wanted Netanyahu to be prime minister. In other words, he got a higher proportion of the vote than did Obama in the U.S. election.
Moreover, the AP article makes it appear that the government has been mean to the Palestinians. This point is reinforced by the conclusion:
""The coalition-building process could force him to promise concessions to restart long-stalled peace talks with the Palestinians."
Since Netanyahu has been trying to hold talks for four years and the Palestinians have refused, plus Hamas is still in power and launched a war against Israel, plus the new Palestinian Authority line is that the peace process is over, it has a state, and doesn't need to negotiate with Israel, Federman's analysis is rather ridiculous and is certainly biased.
While the New York Times did a better job of comprehending Lapid than most, it contained a sentence that really bothers me because it is so worded as to make me think the reporter knew she was being dishonest. It reads:
"This was the first election in memory in which such existential security issues were not emphasized, as a growing majority of Israelis see them as too tough to tackle."
The issue is not that this majority sees such issues "as too tough to tackle" but as just about everyone in Israel knows because it believes that the Palestinian leadership doesn't want to make peace and seeks to use a Palestinian state as a launching pad for wiping Israel off the map. Many of these people never dreamed before 2000 that they would ever reach such a conclusion. Even if you don't agree with this as an assessment, it is only honest to report--but is almost never mentioned--that this is what most Israelis think and is the basis for their political behavior. Instead, at worst, Israelis are blamed for the lack of peace--as in the AP story--or their viewpoint and motives are left as being mysterious.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press.