Waiting for the next Israeli Prime Minister

Shimon Peres - World Economic Forum Annual Meeting Davos 2005

Desicion maker: Israeli president Shimon Peres will decide on Friday who will form the next israeli government. [cc] photo credit: World Economic Forum

Alan Dowty: Inconclusive election in Israel? Not at all
In the week since Israelis went to the polls, the operative word in the media seems to be “inconclusive,” based on the near-tie between the two largest parties and the prospect of bone-wearying bargaining before a government emerges. Both observations are true, but nevertheless the election did register a sharp and significant shift in the Israeli body politic.

Tzipi Livni managed to hold Kadima together and lose only one seat, against expectations, even managing to beat Likud by one seat. For the first time in Israeli political history, a strong centrist party has actually lasted for more than one election; this is a personal achievement of great note and possibly the harbinger of a long-term structural change of major significance. But having said that, the real import of the election was the clear victory of the right.

Only in 2003 have the right and religious parties, as a bloc, achieved such success; in essence, the 2009 election has erased the impact of the 2006 election that followed Ariel Sharon’s defection from Likud and the establishment of Kadima. We are back in 2003, when the second intifada produced the most hawkish Knesset ever. Israel’s turn to the right is a long-term development set in motion by the second intifada, the rise of Hamas as the pivotal Palestinian player, the intrusion of Iran, and what is seen by many Israelis as the failure of unilateral disengagement in Lebanon in 2000 and Gaza in 2005. In this context, the 2006 election was a transitory fluke.

In 2006, center and left parties won 70 seats, while right and religious parties held the remaining 50. Now the center and left are reduced to 55, including 11 seats held by Arab parties, while right and religious parties hold a combined 65. The Jewish left was devastated, dropping from 24 seats to 16, as many of its voters moved rightward to Kadima, replacing voters who moved rightward from that party back to Likud, their original home. Thus Kadima maintained its strength while Likud more than doubled its numbers.

Religious parties considered separately did not actually gain; ultra-orthodox (haredi) parties lost a couple of seats, while the remnant of the old National Religious Party appeared in a new guise as “The Jewish Home” and emerged with only three seats. For the first time in Israel’s history, the religious camp in the Knesset will be dominated almost entirely by the haredim; the national religious camp, long a fixture of the Israeli scene, has practically disappeared.

The other winner on the right, apart from Likud, is Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu, which has outgrown its Soviet immigrant base and has managed to attract a growing clientele with its unique mixture of secularism and a new model of hawkishness based more on ethnicity than on territoriality. This is not the old right wing of “Eretz Yisrael Hashlema” (The Entire Land of Israel); Lieberman is ready to reduce the Arab presence in Israel not only by surrendering Arab population centers on the West Bank and Gaza, but even by ceding Arab-inhabited areas of Israel itself.

Since the end of December 2008, during and after the Israeli military offensive which killed some 1,300 Palestinians, most of them civilians, Hamas forces and militias in the Gaza Strip have engaged in a campaign of abductions, deliberate and unlawful killings, torture and death threats against those they accuse of “collaborating” with Israel, as well as opponents and critics.

At least two dozen men have been shot dead by Hamas gunmen in this period. Scores of others have been shot in the legs, kneecapped or inflicted with other injuries intended to cause permanent disability, subjected to severe beatings which have caused multiple fractures and other injuries, or otherwise tortured or ill-treated.

The targets of Hamas’ deadly campaign include former detainees accused of “collaborating” with the Israeli army who escaped from Gaza’s Central Prison when it was bombed by Israeli forces on 28 December 2008, as well as former members of the Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces and other activists of PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party.

The campaign began shortly after the beginning of the three-week Israeli military offensive against the Gaza Strip on 27 December 2008 and continued after a ceasefire took effect on 18 January 2009.

Most of the victims were abducted from their homes; they were later dumped – dead or injured – in isolated areas, or were found dead in the morgue of one of Gaza’s hospitals. Some were shot dead in the hospitals where they were receiving treatment for injuries they sustained in the Israeli bombardment of Gaza’s Central Prison. The perpetrators of these attacks did not conceal their weapons or keep a low profile, but, on the contrary, behaved in a carefree and confident – almost ostentatious – manner.


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