Israelis have begun voting Tuesday in a general election likely to ensure a third term for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a coalition leaning further toward the conservative right, and away from peace with the Palestinians. As of 2:00 p.m., 38.3 percent of eligible Israelis had voted, up by four percent from the 2009 elections, but turnout from Arab Israelis is only estimated at about 10 percent. Thirty-two parties are competing for seats in the 120-member Knesset. Final opinion polls show Netanyahu's Likud party alongside Avigdor Lieberman's ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu party leading, taking 32 seats, however Likud has recently lost ground to the far-right party of Naftali Bennett, Habayit Hayehudi, or Jewish Home. Bennett, Netanyahu's former chief of staff, has rejected a two-state solution to the Israeli and Palestinian conflict, and has been an advocate for Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Israel's center and left parties failed to present a unified bloc strong enough to present a challenge to Netanyahu. The Labor party is expected to take about 17 seats in the Knesset, but the party's leader, Shelly Yachimovich, said they would not join Netanyahu's coalition. Campaigns leading up to the election veered from traditional issues such as the peace process with the Palestinians and Iran's nuclear program, toward domestic issues such as the economy and housing prices. Most polls close at 10:00 p.m. and preliminary results are expected as early as two hours later, but the final outcome should be known by Wednesday morning.
Russia has sent two airplanes to Lebanon to evacuate about 100 Russian citizens from warring Syria. It is unclear if the effort signals the beginning of a large scale-evacuation. There are an estimated 30,000 Russians living and working in Syria. Russia has remained an ally to Syria throughout the conflict sparked in March 2011, and has maintained support for President Bashar al-Assad and blocked two U.N. Security Council Resolutions on Syria. According to a Russian diplomat, many areas of Damascus are safe, and this is not an evacuation. He said, "We are simply helping people who have gone to the Russian consulate in Damascus requesting assistance." He continued, however, that these planes would likely not be the last and other officials have attested to contingency plans. Russia has about a dozen naval vessels off the coast of Syria, and they could be used in the event of a large-scale evacuation, according to officials. Meanwhile, an estimated 56 people have been killed in a week of fighting between opposition fighters and Kurdish forces in northeast Syria. The Kurdish minority has used the security vacuum from the nearing two-year conflict to establish greater autonomy, but has remained distant from the increasingly Islamist dominated Sunni opposition. Additionally, an estimated 42 people, including women and children, were killed in a suicide car bombing Monday in the town of Salamiyah in Hama province, apparently targeting pro-government militia.
Arguments and Analysis
Syria's Kurds: A Struggle Within a Struggle (International Crisis Group)
"As Syria's conflict has expanded, the population in majority-Kurd areas has remained relatively insulated. Keeping a lower profile, it has been spared the brunt of regime attacks; over time, security forces withdrew to concentrate elsewhere. Kurdish groups stepped in to replace them: to stake out zones of influence, protect their respective areas, provide essential services and ensure an improved status for the community in a post-Assad Syria. Big gains could be reaped, yet cannot be taken for granted. Kurdish aspirations remain at the mercy of internal feuds, hostility with Arabs (evidenced by recent clashes) and regional rivalries over the Kurdish question. For Syria's Kurds, long-suppressed and denied basic rights, prudence dictates overcoming internal divisions, clarifying their demands and - even at the cost of hard compromises - agreement with any successor Syrian power structure to define and enshrine their rights. And it is time for their non-Kurdish counterparts to devise a credible strategy to reassure all Syrians that the new-order vision of the state, minority rights, justice and accountability is both tolerant and inclusive."
Diplomacy Is Dead (Roger Cohen, The New York Times)
"Effective diplomacy - the kind that produced Nixon's breakthrough with China, an end to the Cold War on American terms, or the Dayton peace accord in Bosnia - requires patience, persistence, empathy, discretion, boldness and a willingness to talk to the enemy.
This is an age of impatience, changeableness, palaver, small-mindedness and an unwillingness to talk to bad guys. Human rights are in fashion, a good thing of course, but the space for realist statesmanship of the kind that produced the Bosnian peace in 1995 has diminished. The late Richard Holbrooke's realpolitik was not for the squeamish."
--By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey
The Middle East Channel offers unique analysis and insights on this diverse and vital region of more than 400 million.