Middle East analysts say the results of this week’s Israeli elections could set the stage for an improved relationship with Washington and impact the future of peace talks with the Palestinians and efforts to curb Iran’s nuclear program.
Yair Lapid is the new star of Israeli politics. The 49-year-old former television host burst onto the political scene with his centrist party capturing second place in parliamentary elections and positioning himself as a power broker in the formation of the next government.
Analysts say the vote was a rebuke to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His conservative ticket lost seats in the new parliament despite placing first.
The Israeli vote came as U.S. President Barack Obama was inaugurated for a second term.
Analysts say his leadership style is bolder since reelection.
Robert Satloff is Executive Director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "It is absolutely true that Netanyahu’s success was not as great as Obama’s success, but it is a different political environment," he said.
President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu have had a rocky relationship.
But that could improve if Mr. Netanyahu forms a government open to talks with the Palestinians.
Jerusalem-based analyst David Ricci said, “It won’t be a moderate government but it will be compelled, I think, by international pressure to re-open negotiations. I think the president of the United States is very interested in that.”
After Obama's inauguration, White House spokesman Jay Carney repeated the president’s policy. “What needs to take place are direct negotiations between the two parties that address the final-status issues and that result in a two-state solution," he said.
But some Palestinians in the West Bank are skeptical that a new Israeli government will be a positive development.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki said, “While the Palestinian leadership has reaffirmed its immediate readiness to engage in negotiations on the basis of clear parameters, Israel, however, has instead persisted in its path of occupation, conflict and fear mongering.”
If there is a centrist government, Mr. Netanyahu may be under less pressure for a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.
The Obama administration is hoping a combination of sanctions and diplomacy will avert an armed confrontation.
“The Israelis are willing to let the United States play this out, play Obama’s strategy out, to the very end and see whether the Obama strategy succeeds in convincing Iran to negotiate an end to its military nuclear program," said Robert Satloff
It's likely to take weeks to form a new coalition government, and Yair Lapid is expected to be right in the middle of the negotiations.