Israel looked set on Sunday night for an early general election after the prime minister designate, Tzipi Livni, failed to broker a deal with the religious right and form a new coalition government.
Livni, who replaced Ehud Olmert as leader of the dominant centrist Kadima party last month, visited Israel’s president, Shimon Peres, and urged him to call a new poll.
”I’m sick of this extortion. We’ll see all these heroes in 90 days,” Livni is quoted as telling her advisers after refusing to yield to the demands of the religious right.
A new election and the prospect of a victory for the rightwing Likud party could completely derail peace talks with the Palestinians as well as wider Middle East negotiations.
Livni called on Peres after a rollercoaster day of last-ditch attempts to salvage the negotiations. ”When it became clear that everyone and every party was exploiting the opportunity to make demands that were economically and diplomatically illegitimate, I decided to call off [talks] and go to elections,” she said.
Peres has up to three days to decide how to resolve the leadership crisis, which began on Israel’s 60th birthday earlier this year when it was revealed that police were investigating Olmert for fraud.
The president is expected to yield to Livni’s call and schedule an election to be held in 90 days, instead of November 2010, and even then it could take several more weeks for the new prime minister elect to form a viable coalition government.
Alternatively, Peres can appoint another parliamentary leader who he believes could form a stable government within four weeks, but this is unlikely as Livni, the leader of the party with the biggest parliamentary majority, was the most likely to succeed.
Livni’s failure to broker a deal with the religious right, in particular Shas, which was demanding massive increases to child allowances and a guarantee that the government would not give up east Jerusalem, conquered by Israel in 1967, has left the nation in a political limbo.
As a leader tainted by corruption, Olmert’s mandate to act on behalf of the nation has been greatly diminished, yet he could remain at the helm for at least three more months — and possibly five — until a new coalition government can be formed.
As a result, Olmert told the Cabinet on Sunday that when the winter session of Parliament opens on Monday, he will not outline a political agenda for the future as expected. ”In the current circumstances, this would be incorrect. Therefore, I will make short remarks on socioeconomic issues and not those which certainly stand at the base of serious disagreements among the Israeli public,” he said.
The US-backed peace talks with the Palestinians and the back-channel talks with Syria, via Turkey, are two such divisive national issues that are expected to grind to a halt.
But while Olmert is powerless to act on such issues — especially after the Parliament passed a law earlier this year requiring a referendum or a two-thirds parliamentary majority for Israel to sign a peace deal involving territorial concessions — he faces growing political unrest and threats of violence from Jewish ultra-nationalists, Palestinian in-fighting in the West Bank and an increasingly independent, self-funding Hamas regime in Gaza.
Jewish ultra-nationalists again clashed with Israeli soldiers and police on the weekend after the government ordered the demolition of an illegal outpost. Settlers from Kiryat Arba, a settlement near the Palestinian city of Hebron also rampaged through a Palestinian village, smashing windows and vandalising graves. – guardian.co.uk