Filed under: politics | Tags: coalition, Election, February 10, Kadima, likud, Livni, netanyahu, Peres, posted by a, posted by aklionsky, president, Prime minister, Yisrael Beiteinu
There I sat on February 10, the night of the Israeli election, repeatedly clicking the “refresh” button every few minutes on the Yediot Achronot website. Each time, percentage of seats won by Kadima and those won by Likud seemed insignificantly different. This raised an important question: What happens if the margin of victory by one party over another is tiny.
The way Israel dealt with that question was, in a sense, to disregard the results of the election. When the results are as close as they were this year, Israel brings the final decision to the President. So it was, that on February 20, President Shimon Peres announced that he has the most confidence in Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s ability—not the ability of Kadima’s Tzipi Livni, the candidate who won the most votes—to form a stable coalition, and thus a stable government.
To us, this seems ludicrous. For a country to go through all motions of an election—making campaign promises, ordering ballots, setting up voting booths, tallying the preferences—and then throw away the votes because it can’t be sure that the selected person will make a good leader: what was the point of voting?
February’s election showed something important about Israeli society today. The election showed the division amongst Israelis over what to do about the current situation, and displayed the appeal to large camps of Israelis of both major candidates and their platforms. But what the election failed to do was precisely what it was supposed to: decisively deliver a new Prime Minister to the Israeli people.
In contrast to the clear and meticulous American electoral system—which definitively selected Barack Obama as the next president just hours after the final ballot had been cast—the Israeli parliamentary system is much more complicated. The convolution, though, is merely a mirror of the highly political nature of Israeli society. In Israel, any child could have told you who was running for Prime Minister, what each candidate stood for, and some half-formed, parentally-influenced political commentary on the implications of each candidate on the present state of affairs. In Israel, each person has an agenda, and each person has a party that she thinks represents her agenda; hence the eleven parties that won seats (and the many more parties that ran without winning seats) in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.
President Peres’s pick of Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu marks the first time that the person chosen to be Prime Minister has not been the head of the largest party. However, the choice was largely a necessary decision on Peres’s part. With Yisrael Beiteinu—Avigdor Lieberman’s hawkish, right wing party that demands oaths of loyalty from Arab-Israeli citizens—endorsing Netanyahu’s right-wing agenda and willing to join a Likud-based coalition, it simply seemed more likely to President Peres that Netanyahu (not Livni) would have the resources to build a strong government.
The effects the election results will have on the US-Israel relationship and on the US-Arab relationship are still undetermined. Barack Obama has promised to make the Middle East a concern of his and Secretary of State Clinton has already made visits to the area. The possibility of peace, from the Israeli standpoint, might now be more elusive. Netanyahu reached out to Livni shortly after Peres’s announcement. Yet her initial disdain toward the possibility of her centrist Kadima party joining forces with his right-of-center Likud party was clear when she said that she was “going into the opposition.”
If negotiations with Livni fail again, Netanyahu may be forced to accept a coalition not only with Yisrael Beiteinu, but with other hard-line religious and nationalist parties as well. Such arguments, still being hashed out long after Netanyahu’s ascension to the prime ministerial post, must be resolved in order for Israel to make any headway with her neighbors.
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