February 10, 2009

Israeli Elections - And they're off....

Tzipi LivniThe Israeli election results are in - surprisingly, the centrist Kadima Party led by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni (left) emerged as the victor with a one-seat margin over rival Likud, led by Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu (below with author).

According to the Israeli press, Kadima won 28 seats and Likud received 27. As for the two other major parties, Avigdor Lieberman's Israel Beiteinu won 15 seats and Labor, led by Ehud Barak, received just 13 seats.

These results show an interesting trend in the Israeli body politic. Netanyahu was able to increase the conservative Likud's position by 15 seats, from 12 to 27. The far right Israel Beiteinu gained four seats, up to 15 from 11. The orthodox Shas party, normally associated with the conservative bloc, lost one seat, from 12 to 11.

On the other side of the spectrum, Labor was the biggest loser, giving up six seats. Kadima was pretty consistent, losing only one seat. Given those results, it would appear that Israelis have turned a bit to the right. However, due to Israel's complicated parliamentary system, the election results are only another step in the formation of a new Israeli government. The Knesset consists of 120 seats - to form a government a party or coalition of parties must control 61 seats.

Tzipi Livni will now have six weeks to form a coalition government. Whether or not she will succeed in putting together a coalition is uncertain. She failed to form a new government when Prime Minister Ehud Olmert resigned in September 2008. After the election results were announced this evening, she called on Netanyahu and his Likud Party to join her government. That would give her 55 seats, requiring only six more to form a government.

Bibi Netanyuah and the authorNetanyahu refused to concede, assuming that Livni will be unable to put together a coalition. He believes that he can, though, by appealing to the more conservative parties. It is probably safe to assume that Lieberman's ultra-right party will eventually throw their 15 seats to Netanyahu, giving him 42 seats.

Lieberman made a statement that he is open to either Kadima or Likud, but given his party's far right positions - they want to eliminate Hamas, for example - Likud is a better fit. His statement is an effort to give him more leverage in his negotiations with Netanyahu.

Since it does not appear likely that Netanyahu will join a coalition with Livni, it follows that the key to forming a coalition will be attracting Labor and Shas, or one of the two and a smattering of smaller parties.

It is dangerous to predict outcomes in Israeli politics - most analysts predicted a definite Likud/Netanyahu victory in today's elections. That said, it seems to me that Netanyahu might have the edge in forming a coalition.