Legislative elections in Israel

Press review – week from February 9 to 13, 2009

Last Tuesday, the Israeli elections have destabilized a little more the political arena of the Hebrew State. The results gave victory to Kadima party led by Tzipi Livni by one seat before Likud of Benjamin Netanyahu, but the latter seems most likely to form a coalition since the right-wing is the real winner of the elections (Likud has 65 potential MP supports, against 55 for Kadima). The President S. Peres has now 28 days (to which 14 more days can be added) to decide who can bring together a coalition government. Therefore, it is now time for negotiations.

Victory of the (extreme) right wing, collapse of Labor

The Israeli elections were marked by three phenomena: the electorate’s shift to the right, leading to an upsurge of the right wing and the extreme right, the collapse of the Labor Party and the fragmentation of candidates applications.

A shift to the right of the political scene

Likud (right) won 27 seats (against 12 before), the extreme right-wing Israel Beiteinou 15 (11), and the ultra-Orthodox party Shas 11 (12). For Le Figaro, the right-wing has won its bet through the success of the leader Lieberman, who asked the future government to reject any negotiations or truce with Hamas.

The Labor debacle

According to La Libre Belgique, these elections have « buried the Israeli ideological left. » The Meretz party got 3 MPs among the 120 Knesset’s seats, but the collapse concerns especially the Labor Party, founder of the Jewish state. With thirteen members, it is only the fourth party. The fall of the party has been progressive: if its arrogance towards the Sephardic population has weakened it, its fall was precipitated by its lack of leadership and ideology, says the Belgian daily. Meanwhile, the Labor’s ideals of pacifism and socialism have been « diluted » in line with the values of prudence and security with a « light » economic liberalism, which led it to be placed behind Kadima.

Towards a reform of the electoral process?

The issue of reforming the voting system arose again in Israel after Tuesday’s legislative election, reports Le Figaro. The proliferation of parties has led, over the last twenty years, to a chronic instability due to the system of full proportional. Thirty-three lists were in the race for a seat among the 120 in the Knesset (the law requires at least 2% to be represented). Ehud Barak, the leader of the Labor Party and Avigdor Lieberman, head of Israel Beitenou, have both called for a reform of the electoral system while a reform project to introduce a little of majority voting rule was rejected in 2008.

Negotiations for what coalition?

Pending the decision of President Peres, the time has come for negotiations and talks between parties to build a coalition government. Given the fragmentation of applications and the close results of Kadima and Likud, the task looks complicated and many scenarios seem possible. For Le Figaro, joined by many newspapers, five scenarios are to be taken into account:

• A Livni government. According to the traditional logic, the task of building a majority should return to Tzipi Livni, who arrived first. She had been charged last September, after her election as head of Kadima, to form a government and had failed, especially because of the defection of Shas, the Sephardic Orthodox party, which led to these early elections.

• A right-wing Netanyahu government. Obeying to the logic of arithmetic, this possibility would be to entrust Netanyahu with the care to form a coalition with right-wing parties and extreme right. However, it would put him in an ambiguous position with the U.S. and lead him to become a « hostage » of the various formations of the coalition.

• A “centre” Netanyahu government with Kadima and the Labor Party.

• A Netanyahu- Livni rotation: four years of legislatures would be shared by two successive prime ministers, Netanyahu and Livni. This strange system was invented in 1984 to put an end to a similar deadlock.

• A Livni-Barak-Lieberman coalition. This hypothesis remains unlikely, particularly given the opposition of small leftist parties

In the Turkish daily Hurriyet, Avraham Diskin, a specialist in political science in Jerusalem, says that T. Livni has no chance of forming a coalition, because if Lieberman decided to support her, she would lose any support from the left. In addition, Diskin warned against a strictly right-wing coalition, which would be inherently unstable.

According to Haaretz, Benjamin Netanyahu proposed a Likud-Kadima-Labor-Israel Beiteinu coalition, giving the Ministry of Finance to Avigdor Lieberman, the Foreign Affairs to Tzipi Livni and defense to S. Mofaz. The head of Likud told Haaretz that he would ask everyone to put their differences aside for the sake of national unity.
On her side, T. Livni, who intends to lead herself a coalition, has already promised to A.Lieberman that she would support him to introduce civil marriage in law and change the system of government.

However, as the Herald Tribune highlights, Livni, Netanyahu and Lieberman have divergent positions on the Arab / Palestinian issue. Lieberman wants the Israeli Arabs to swear loyalty to obtain full citizenship and refuses negotiations with Arabs while Netanyahu advocates for an « economic peace » with the Palestinians and Livni may support the two- States solution.

The international community and the elections results

For Le Figaro, the uncertainty about the future government “qualified” international reactions. If N. Sarkozy wished that the future government « will have the obsession of peace » for the country’s own safety and through the creation of a Palestinian State, Mr. Kouchner suggested that Mr. Peres might call « the one who won the elections. » As for Mr. Karel De Gucht, the Belgian Foreign Minister, he described T. Livni, as his « first choice » while the White House has only communicated on the efforts to achieve peace.

On the Palestinian side, if Mr. Abbas had told the Corriere della Sera that « once the government is in power, and whatever its form, responsibility and pragmatism will prevail »,Haaretz revealed that the Palestinian Authority has led a campaign advocating for the diplomatic isolation by the international community of Likud as it is the case with Hamas. Mr. Abbas would have expressed his concerns about a government led by B. Netanyahu during his meeting with the French, Italian and British leaders to whom he asked for the respect of the requests made by the Quartet.

Concerning the American side, it seems that the possible accession to power of B. Netanyahu is seen as negative for the USA / Israel relationship, as reports Haaretz. Indeed, despite his perfect knowledge of the USA and his American networks, B. Netanyahu obviously gave very bad memories to Bill Clinton and his team. Furthermore, one of Israel main supports in the U.S., the Congress, seems to have recently evolved on the Palestinian question asking Obama to support the two-States solution.

Finally, the New York Times is concerned about the impact that these elections could have on the relations between the USA and Iran. Indeed, if the warming of the USA / Iran relations was to be confirmed, the Obama administration would have to negotiate with  « one of the greatest enemies of America, while controlling one of its closest allies. » If the Iranians are surely not resolved to give up their nuclear program, Israel will undoubtedly keep its positions and it will be the U.S.’s task to prevent Israel from undermine the US-Iranian efforts.