Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The upside down world of Israeli politics

While many of us have been relieved that the American presidential experience of 2006-2008 was decided at the ballot box last November, a very colorful electoral process is ongoing in Israel as a result of the fractious party system that runs governments there. Although the Kadima Party of Tzipi Livni garnered more votes in the general election for the Knesset, it is the Likud Party's Benjamin Netanyahu who will become the next prime minister due to the supposition of President Shimon Peres that the right wing votes were greater in the last election than the left wing. With Peres's invitation to "Bibi" Netanyahu, a coalition government with the Labor Party can now be formed with him at its head. The party of Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert will now take a back seat to Netanyahu as the voices of peace will continue to be heard in that troubled area, but with a slightly more hawkish approach to a two-state solution. In fact, a coaltion between Likud and Kadima could not be managed due to Netanyahu's reluctance to specifically state he will support a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine categorically. Thus, Netanyahu, a former prime minister, will again ascend that august chair and guide Israel into the next phase of talks with the Palestinians. Imagine an American election in which the Republicans would join with the Libertarians and form a government squeezing out the Democrats from the executive branch entirely. That's similar to what is going on in Israel. But don't stop there. Consider the even more splintered 30 other political parties, each vying for as many seats in the Knesset as possible to have a say in the coaltion government being formed. Most of them will be discounted, but others like the extreme right wing party of Avigdor Lieberman, Yisrael Beitenu, cast a pall over the future of Israel's path to peace. Yisrael Beitenu is now the third largest political power in Israel and a definite backlash to the peace proposals of the past. It is Lieberman who has muddied the political waters in Israel by questioning the allegiance of the country's Arab population. Arabs have enjoyed incredible rights in the Jewish state since its inception, but the recent action in Gaza and the high death toll of civilians have some Arab-Israelis questioning how much Israel desires to continue down the road to peace. Netanyahu is keeping his options open in case it becomes politically expedient to turn his back on a two-state solution in the future. He promised that he would continue to move down the path of peace, engaging with the Palestinian Authority in open peace talks. However, there is no assurance that he will be looking at a two-state solution and, given the large numbers of Israelis who voted against a more liberal approach, it would seem that there is no mandate for him to do so either. So, its politics as unusual in Israel, a place that makes America look almost humdrum.

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