Friday, February 13, 2009

Wither Israel?

Now that the dust has settled a little, it is good to note that Israel had a general election this week, on Tuesday to be exact. The results of the election clearly show that while Israelis feel very threatened by the current situation and recognize the need to be tough, they are not ready to throw in the towel as far as working towards a peaceful settlement with the Palestinians, which will eventually result in an independent Palestinian state.

Like most Western democracies, Israel’s form of national government is a parliamentary. The Israeli parliament, which is unicameral, is called the Knesset. Whoever has a majority in the Knesset runs the country, which does have a president. The President of Israel , while not exclusively ceremonial, wields no real clout. So, the prime minister, who, along with her or his fellow cabinet ministers, is a member of the Knesset, is the chief executive of the state. No single party in the recent past has succeeded in capturing 61 of the 120 Knesset seats needed to rule by themselves. Hence, the leader of the party that wins the most seats is given the first opportunity to form a government by entering into a coalition with other parties. Tuesday’s election had the surprising result of the Kadima Party, led by a woman, Tzipi Livni, the foreign minister in the last government, winning the most seats. Established in 2006 by then-prime minister Ariel Sharon as a moderate and pragmatic alternative to the hard-line Likud Party and the softer Labor Party, which has been the dominant party throughout Israel’s modern history, Kadima is made up primarily of prominent former members of both parties, like Sharon from Likud and current Israeli President, Shimon Peres, from Labor.

Tzipi Livni

Kadima won 28 seats with Likud likely winning 27. So, Kadima enters into coalition talks. The complication is that the party that finished with the third largest number of seats is the newly formed Yisrael Beitneu party, led by hard-liner Avigdor Lieberman, who appears to be in the role of coalition-maker or breaker. Lieberman is much more likely to cast his lot with Likud than with Kadima, which means that Kadima will have to make a very sweet deal that appeals to Yisrael Beitneu demands, one of which is requiring an oath of loyalty from Israeli citizens who are Arab. Labor cannot be utterly dismissed, having 13 seats. In fact, Labor is a much more likely coalition partner for Kadima than Yisrael Beitneu. If you are familiar with the saying that politics makes strange bedfellows, forming governing coalitions in parliamentary democracies, especially in times of national crisis, can be more unpredictable than a swingers’ shindig. I am not certain that a Kadima/Likud coalotion is out of the question. However, while unlikely, such a coalition would not last long and would result in early general elections, again.

Doing the math, you may be thinking, that all the seats I have mentioned only add up to 83. The Shas Party, a political party comprised of observant Sephardic Jews (i.e., Jews from the Middle East, as opposed to Ashkenazi Jews, who come from Europe), won 11 seats. Shas has been and continues to exercise political clout quite disproportionate to their numbers. After that, we are only at 94 seats. The other 26 seats are divided among seven parties, with the United Torah Judaism Party claiming the most at 5. As for me and my house, we will root for Ms. Livni and Kadima.

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating. This really brings Israeli politics into focus.


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