Ben Buchwalter


In Israel, Pray for PM Minus Lieberman
February 10, 2009, 9:20 pm
Filed under: Foreign Affairs | Tags: , ,

Everyone knew that Israel’s election today would be close. But everyone also thought that we’d know by the end of the day who Israel’s next Prime Minister would be. The graphic above shows polling from the election. As you can see, the centrist Kadima party of Tzipi Livni won a plurality of Knesset seats, followed closely by the more conservative Likud party, led by Bibi Netanyahu. But neither party received an absolute majority. This means that Netanyahu or Livni will need to form coalitions with smaller parties in order to determine who will become Prime Minister.

The problem is that both Netanyahu and Livni are likely to seek conservative and ultra conservative support in order to form the governing coalition. Due to Israel’s turbulent year, nationalism has swelled, benefiting one of Israel’s most conservative members, Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of the Yisrael Beitenu party. For this reason, Lieberman, who has called for a “loyalty oath” from Arab nationals, is the election’s kingmaker.

This is dangerous because Netanyahu or Livni will have to commit to taking a hard line against Hamas and other Arab factions within Israel in order to secure Lieberman’s support and become Prime Minister. This all but guarantees that the Prime Minister will not engage fully in the peace process with Arab leaders and surrounding governments of Jordan, Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon. Netanyahu might not have been staunchly nationalistic if he won the election, for example, but collaborating with Lieberman assures that Netanyahu will not actively seek peace. For this reason, Netanyahu, the more conservative candidate, would lead better without Lieberman than Livni would with him.

One thing is for sure. The only way for Livni to provide the Obama-esque change that she promised during the election, would be to find a way to form a majority without Lieberman’s party.  Otherwise they’re simply falling back into tired modes of nationalistic ferver against Israel’s disadvantaged minority.

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