Israel's elections last Tuesday may have given the joint Likud-Beiteinu party led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the largest number of seats in the parliament, but it appears to have changed little in an increasingly troubled region.
Based on the United States' two-party system, Americans expect national elections in a state of interest to make a difference. Israel's complicated political system seems to have produced a result this time that clarifies nothing. The outcome was murky, with a virtually unknown party coming in second to Mr. Netanyahu's, which had been expected to win big but didn't. Now begins the tortuous process of forming a coalition to rule the nation of 8 million.
Likud-Beiteinu, to the disappointment of Mr. Netanyahu, 63, won 31 seats in the 120-seat Knesset. His party and its previous right-wing and religious allied parties won 62, which would make a shaky coalition government. Second place went to a centrist party, Yesh Atid, "There Is a Future," led by a television personality, Yair Lapid, 49. Mr. Netanyahu will now explore including that party in a coalition, but there are some strong reasons that will militate against such a union.
One is that Mr. Lapid's party favors adding Israel's ultra-Orthodox population to both the Israeli Defense Forces and the work force, from which they are now excused. Some of Mr. Netanyahu's partners in previous governments have been parties dominated by the ultra-Orthodox, thus making these bedfellows a little strange even for Israeli politics. Mr. Lapid's party's signature issues in the campaign were more bread-and-butter, middle-class matters, such as housing costs and inequalities in Israeli society.
The election outcome unfortunately promises little in terms of possibilities for regional peace, based on a potential revival of Israeli-Palestinian talks leading to a two-state resolution. Traditional Israeli supporters of the quest for peace did not fare well on Tuesday. Even though Mr. Netanyahu's unconcealed support for Republican Mitt Romney in the U.S. presidential elections will not make it easy, President Barack Obama is nonetheless obliged in the name of peace to return to that project in his second term.
Middle East talks will need to be very high on the agenda of Mr. Obama's new secretary of state, likely to be Sen. John Kerry, when he is confirmed by the Senate. The Israeli-Palestinian issue will only get worse if it is not addressed.