Israel elections bode ill for peace

11 February 2009

by Gerald Butt Middle East Correspondent

Kadima's Tzipi Livni

Kadima's Tzipi Livni

ONLY TWO certain conclusions could be drawn in the immediate aftermath of the general election in Israel this week: voters opted over­whelmingly for centre-right and right-wing candidates; and Labour, the party seen as most conciliatory in the peace process, was humiliated.

As Kadima, led by the Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, is forecast to beat Benja­min Netanyahu’s Likud bloc by only a whisker, a period of tough bargaining can be expected before some kind of coalition is put together. A key player will be Avigdor Lieber­man, head of the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu, which came third in the polls.

Whatever cocktail of political par­ties eventually forms a government, Israel’s next adminis­tration is likely to be fragile and therefore in a poor position to make tough compromises in the interests of peace.

“Whatever way you look at it, there has been a major shift to the right,” said the Revd Mitri Raheb of the An­nadwa ecumenical centre in Bethle­hem.

 “I am not hopeful, because the result means a move towards greater instability. It is sad that the majority of Israelis are becoming more extremist.”

The liberal Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz urged Kadima to join with Labour as the basis for a future coalition, arguing that “a merger would strengthen the camp that sup­ports a division of the land and a peace deal with Syria, in contrast with the right wing, which opposes any com­promise or withdrawal. The es­tab­­lishment of a large bloc in the cen­ter of the political spectrum will also help resolve the stability problem.”

But even a centrist coalition be­tween Kadima and Labour would still be at the mercy of the smaller nationalist and religious parties. It is likely that Likud and Beitenu would unite to try to block any Kadima/ Labour partnership.

So, in terms of the hopes for peace, the outcome could hardly have been more discouraging. Kadima is tainted in Palestinian eyes for having waged the recent war on Gaza.

Also, the Palestinians are in no position to extend a firm hand to the next coalition in Israel. This state of affairs will continue as long as the split remains between Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza. A Hamas spokesman described the outcome of the Israeli elections as “a victory for the trio of terrorism, Livni, Netanyahu, and Lieberman”.

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