As Israelis vote Tuesday, one critical factor may be the youth vote, newly-energized by a contested race (and by millions of dollars in foreign donations, including from U.S. taxpayers, to left-wing get-out-the-vote efforts). One critical factor in the expected strong performance by the Zionist Union opposition to incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party is that young Israelis voting for the first time will have had no real memory of the Oslo peace process–and its failure.
The Oslo process began on the White House lawn in 1993, and continued, fitfully, until early 2001. It was interrupted by Palestinian terrorist campaigns and by the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin by a right-wing Jewish extremist. In 1999, urged on by President Bill Clinton, the Labor Party ousted then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and renewed efforts at peace–only to see those hopes dashed when Yasser Arafat walked away from a deal in July 2000.
Arafat launched the second intifada, during which the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas terror organization attacked Israeli civilians in major population centers, killing over a thousand civilians and soldiers. Israel responded with counter-terror operations in Palestinian areas, in which thousands of Palestinians were killed, many of them combatants. Though U.S. President George W. Bush offered Palestinians a state, Arafat continued his terror, importing weapons from Iran.
Israeli voters responded by tossing Labor out of office. The right and center-right have governed Israel ever since. During that time, Israel erected a security barrier, which eliminated suicide bombings, and built the Iron Dome system, which now protects civilians from short-range rockets. Yet the Palestinians continue to press for maximalist demands–encouraged, since 2009, by President Barack Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s pressure on Israel to concede.
Young Israelis may remember the Gaza disengagement of 2005, which added to Israel’s strategic depth and diplomatic clout but only encouraged further terrorism. They certainly remember the frequent wars that have followed, such as the Second Lebanon War and the various operations against Hamas in Gaza. They understand the growing threat from Iran. Yet they do not have any personal recollection of the staggering, bitter disappointment of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
As a result, they may be more inclined to trust the opposition’s message of hope and change–a message that sounds eerily familiar to American conservatives, many of whom are watching the Zionist Union’s surge with a mix of fascination and dismay.
The reality that Netanyahu takes for granted may be one that new voters simply do not accept, because the events of even the relatively recent past are ancient history to them. If the opposition wins on Tuesday, that may be a big reason.