Israel braced for weeks of political uncertainty

Israel braced on Friday for weeks of political uncertainty and paralysis of the Middle East peace process after final results confirmed the Kadima Party narrowly won the election but suggested Likud is better placed to form a government.

The centrist Kadima of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni won 28 of the 120 parliamentary seats, just one more than Likud, the right-wing party led by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But Livni’s narrow win in Tuesday’s vote does not guarantee her the prime minister’s job. Most pundits predict Netanyahu will be the one forming a government, but also say he is guaranteed some major headaches.

Under Israeli law, the person most likely to secure majority support in Parliament—and not automatically the winner of the vote—gets the first shot at forming a government.

The task is complicated by the fact a political party only needs two percent of the vote to get seat in the Knesset, which often gives clout to special interest groups such as pro-settler or ultra-orthodox religious parties.

While Netanyahu and Livni have both been holding talks with potential partners to form a coalition, there is talk they could form an alliance that would also include the centre-left Labour Party of Defence Minister Ehud Barak.

“The chances of this are still unclear, but the top members of the three parties have a fair number of supporters for the idea of forming a government based on the three center parties,” the Maariv newspaper said.

This step, the newspaper added, would defuse the power of ultra-nationalist Avigdor Lieberman, whose far-right Yisrael Beitenu Party took third position with 15 seats—giving him the clout of a kingmaker.

“Netanyahu does not really want an extreme right-wing government. Judging by all the information he has, the Americans would respond severely to this and relations between Israel and the US could enter a stalemate,” Maariv wrote.

A narrow right-wing government would include parties opposed to dismantling settlements and territorial concessions in peace talks and would put Netanyahu at odds with the administration of US President Barack Obama, analysts say.

The Haaretz newspaper said a Likud-led coalition with Kadima and Labour “would deprive Netanyahu of ideological zeal” but may enable him to “advance interim agreements with the Palestinians and the Syrians”.

MPs from the ultra-Orthodox Shas religious party spoke out in favour of including Kadima in a Likud-led coalition, saying the government would have limited survival chances if it were too far to the right, Haaretz reported.

Palestinian officials have warned that a government that includes right-wing parties would bury the already hobbled US-backed peace process that was relaunched in November 2007 after a seven-year hiatus.

But several Kadima members have urged Livni not to enter into a coalition with Netanyahu—who is popularly known as Bibi—according to the mass-selling Yediot Aharonot.

“Such a government will not last even a year.
Bibi wants to send us into the opposition and to dismantle Kadima, but we will dismantle him first,” the newspaper quoted a Kadima MP as saying.

President Shimon Peres is due to hold talks with the parliamentary parties starting on Wednesday next week to determine who he will task with forming a government coalition.

His decision is unlikely to come as a surprise.

“Benjamin Netanyahu will be Israel’s next prime minister,” Haaretz declared.—AFP

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