An uncertain view from Israel

There are several places in Israel where, on a clear day, you can see from one end of the country to the other, from the glittering Mediterranean Sea to the hazy mountains of the West Bank. Geographic clarity is important in understanding the mindset of Israelis. When you can see the country from end to end, there is indeed little room for strategic miscalculation here.

The elections in Israel yesterday have clouded the long view of the Middle East peace process. The two candidates, Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu and former Army Chief of Staff Benny Gantz have created an uncertain outcome. Last night, both declared victory. Today, it appears the Likud Party that Netanyahu leads has the seats it needs to retain power after its main rival conceded defeat. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin will invite him to form a majority coalition in the 120 seat Knesset. But the smaller parties he will rely on can be mercurial and demanding. Negotiations will be fluid as commitments on both sides are malleable and subject to change.

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In other words, stay tuned for how this plays out. The political fate of Netanyahu teetered throughout this election, but so does that of the peace process. President TrumpDonald John TrumpDems want tougher language on election security in defense bill Five aides to Van Drew resign ahead of his formal switch to GOP The myth of the conservative bestseller MORE did everything he could to strengthen the prime minister in his electoral prospects. He moved the American Embassy to Jerusalem, recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and offered no reservation to the announcement before the election that Netanyahu might annex areas of the West Bank. Trump created new facts on the ground even as Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerTrump executive order aimed at combating anti-Semitism stirs up controversy Trump hosts pastor who says 'Jews are going to hell' at White House Hanukkah party Mark Levin calls Trump 'first Jewish president' MORE, Jason Greenblatt, and Ambassador David Friedman continued to design a peace proposal, whose details remain shrouded in secrecy. It is kind of like playing baseball but somehow managing to start out with the bases loaded.

Some of these moves, even the announcement of annexation, have been shrugged off as political posturing before the elections. But we have learned that elections have consequences. Denied a two-state solution where both sides can enforce peace, Israel will preside over a potential demographic time bomb. The population forecasts vary and are easily cherry picked by both sides, but the trends are strikingly clear. Over the next decades, the Palestinian Arab population in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank could come close to, and possibly even exceed, the Jewish population in Israel. If that is true, in the long run, Israel could be faced with pressure to preserve itself as a democratic state or a Jewish state. Today, it is both. The future, on the other hand, is more complicated.

West Bank Palestinians, faced with the possibility of an existence without any hope for self governance, might escalate violence as their Gaza counterparts have done and terminate security cooperation with Israel. Israel would be required to inject a heavy military presence across the area. It is a combustible scenario. On the other side of the West Bank, Jordan sits apprehensively. An end to a two-state possibility may or may not push Palestinians across the river, flooding Jordan with refugees.

Netanyahu has proven himself a master of electoral maneuvering. He has a history of hovering to the left of the right and to the right of the left. Until now, he has been able to manage pressure from far right wing parties with the deft wielding of carrots and sticks: The carrot is his empathy for their positions, the stick is American opposition to their goals. He was always able to say that Washington was applying brakes. Now, however, it seems as if Washington is pressing on the gas pedal.

As if that is not murky enough, consider that Trump could offer a peace plan designed to be rejected by the Palestinians and provide cover for the imposition of a one-state scenario. Or Washington can produce a plan that offers legitimate concessions to the Palestinians, which conservative Israelis reject, forcing Netanyahu to attempt a deal with the left. This brings us back to those places where you can see Israel from end to end. What you cannot see is behind corners and walls, crevices and pits, and the mountains. On the day after the election, the view remains uncertain.

Steve IsraelSteven (Steve) J. IsraelThe Hill's Campaign Report: 2020 Democrats trading jabs ahead of Los Angeles debate The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Nancy Pelosi knows she needs to protect the Democratic majority MORE represented New York in Congress for 16 years and served as the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is now the director of the Institute of Politics and Global Affairs at Cornell University. You can find him on Twitter @RepSteveIsrael.