Winds Of Change

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has formed a majority coalition with the secularist Shinui party bringing speculation about the possibility of a Likud-Labour coalition. The effects of this choice have some potentially wide-ranging effects on Israeli politics.

The Shinui Party (shinui being Hebrew for ‘change’) is a party committed to a more secular society for Israel. Shinui has nearly as many seats in the Knesset as does Labour, now holding 15 of the 120 seats in the Knesset.

Traditionally, Likud has formed coalitions containing at least one of the Orthodox parties such as Shas. This gave the Orthodox segment of the Israeli population a considerable amount of say into government policy – which provided a major wedge in Israeli society prior to the current intifada. Now, the Orthodox parties are becoming more marginalized in Israeli politics.

The effects of this are likely to be major. Shinui wants to reduce the amount of intermingling between religion and state affairs as much as possible. These changes may reduce simmering tensions in Israeli society that would likely have erupted in major conflict had the Palestinian crisis not intervened. In the end, reducing these tensions may create problems with the Orthodox parties, but if Likud and Shinui can maintain a stable coalition the possibility for social reform and increased security may only increase.

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