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Israeli Politics Update

Posted by Eliot Weinstein on October 27, 2008

As linked in the previous post, Israel is currently in the midst of a(nother) political upheaval. Over the summer, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was forced to tender his resignation due to corruption investigations. Primary elections for his Kadima party, which currently heads a shaky coalition government, resulted in a victory for Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who was given a fixed amount of time to re-organize a governing coalition with herself as Prime Minister. The negotiations went down to the wire, but they have ended in deadlock. The centrist Kadima party reached tentative agreements with the center-left parties Labor and Meretz, but Kadima leaders were unable to gain enough parties to constitute a majority in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset. Livni has acknowledged this, putting the country on track for elections in early 2009. Olmert will continue to serve as Prime Minister until a new government is formed after the elections.

Although the coalition negotiations were complex, Livni’s failure to form a government ultimately rested on the unwillingness of two religious-affiliated parties that tenuously supported Olmert, Shas and United Torah Judaism, to join Livni’s new coalition. From my perspective, the key to their intransigence was opposition to the concessions accompanying further peace negotiations:

“…[Shas Chairman] Yishai was told as soon as the negotiations started that Livni would not accept a coalition agreement that excluded Jerusalem from the political talks with the Palestinians…”

Unfortunately, the revitalized Kadima led by the diplomatically-inclined Livni–who possesses the desire and wherewithal to press ahead with major negotiations that could complete the outlines of a two-state solution–may never get the chance to lead Israel. Elections could benefit the center-right (currently opposition) Likud party, led by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as easily as the informal Kadima-Labor-Meretz alliance. Likud is known to favor a reversal of the current Kadima government’s policies of removing Jewish settlers from the Palestinian Territories and offering land swaps to compensate the Palestinians for Israeli annexations. While an increased Knesset margin for Kadima and/or Labor could put peace talks back on track after the election (by March?), a Likud victory would almost certainly shut down negotiations, possibly causing military retrenchment by both Israelis and Palestinians.

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