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Analysis: World distracted as Israelis head to polls

By Ben Wedeman, Senior Correspondent, CNN
updated 11:41 AM EST, Mon January 21, 2013
  • Israelis go to the polls on January 22 with 34 parties fighting for Knesset seats
  • Wedeman: Netanyahu is expected to remain PM and the body politic to keep shifting right
  • Rest of world distracted by issues like economic crisis, says CNN correspondent
  • Wedeman: Is rest of world disillusioned with Israel's stance on settlements?

(CNN) -- There was a time when Israel was a top story. War and peace in the Middle East has always been big news. But today, at least in Israel, there is neither war nor peace, just that gray area between the two.

Israelis are going to the polls next Tuesday, but there's a feeling that little of great import to the rest of the world will be decided this time around. As political analyst Daniel Levy wrote in Foreign Policy, these elections are "about nothing." Consequently, there is less international interest in Tuesday's vote than usual.

What's at stake in Israel election?

It appears fairly certain that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will keep his job. The Israeli body politic will continue its rightward shift, with hardliners insisting on deepening Israel's now more than 45 year-old occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights.

Since the beginning of the millennium, Israel has put down the second Palestinian uprising (intifada). It has gone to war with Hezbollah in Lebanon, and taken its battle with Hamas direct to Gaza.

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In 2010 Time magazine ran a cover story entitled "Why Israel Doesn't Care About Peace." The basic argument was that the economy was booming, there was relatively little violence, Israel's military dwarfed all those around it and that, for Israelis, life was good; so there really wasn't much point in going that extra mile for peace with the Palestinians.

Internationally, Prime Minister Netanyahu hasn't done a lot to make friends. There was the famous incident when an open mike caught President Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

"I can't stand him. He's a liar," Sarkozy reportedly said of Netanyahu, speaking to Obama. "You're tired of him? What about me?' responded Obama, "I have to deal with him every day."

What lies ahead for Israel in 2013?

Last November, following Israel's decision to push forward with plans to build a settlement in the so-called 'E-1' area -- east of Jerusalem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank -- and build an addition 3,000 housing units in occupied territory, Jeffery Goldberg wrote in Bloomberg of Obama's exasperation. "Obama said privately and repeatedly, "Israel doesn't know what its own best interests are." With each new settlement announcement, in Obama's view, Netanyahu is moving his country down a path toward near-total isolation."

Right now the world may have too much on its plate to pay close attention to Israel. The U.S. and Europe are struggling with an economic crisis that is now into its fifth year, and there are more pressing matters to deal with. But there is also a growing disillusionment with Israel. The Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement, aimed at isolating Israel in protest over its treatment of the Palestinians, is gaining ground. Even pop stars are now shunning Israel in reaction to protests.

Some say the dynamic between Israel and the Palestinians is being reframed much like South Africa under apartheid. It's a comparison, drawn by Desmond Tutu among others, that enrages many Israelis and their supporters elsewhere, but it is one that many in Israel acknowledge is a growing reality. Few believe it will be addressed at this election.

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