Israeli Politics Gets Stranger

Israel has always had a somewhat byzantine political system, and with the results of today’s elections now being released it looks like it’s only going to get stranger. Ariel Sharon’s Kadima Party, which supports disengagement, has won a narrow plurality of seats in the 120-member Israeli Knesset. Kadima is expected to get about 30 seats, which is down from the 40 they were predicted to achieve when Ariel Sharon was still the leader of the party. The left-wing Labour Party, led by union leader Amram Mitzna is expected to get 20-22 seats. The formerly-ruling Likud Party of Binyamin Netanyahu has plummeted to 11-12 seats after the Kadima split.

As always, it’s the minor parties that really throw a wrench into things. The socialist Gil Party, or the Pensioner’s Party, did quite well, with an estimated 6 seats. Gil is like what would happen if the AARP decided to found their own party. The right-wing Y’israel Beitenu Party also picked up considerable support – possibly beating Likud with 13 votes. Y’israeli Beiteinu is a party that has a strong constituency with ethnic Russian Jews and advocates making many Israeli Arabs Palestinian citizens rather than recognizing them as Israelis. Led by Avigdor Lieberman, Y’israel Beiteinu picked up considerable support from Orthodox Jews and other right-wing parts of the Israeli electorate.

It’s likely that Kadima will reach out to Labour, which will help push through the disengagement issue, but will probably lead to gridlock on economic matters. Olmert and Kadima will have a very difficult time forming a stable government, as Kadima and Labour have some rather serious disagreements – and as Hamas takes control of the Palestinian Authority, it’s going to be harder for them to argue for continuing the policies of unilaterial disengagement from Palestinian areas.

The incapacitation of Arial Sharon has put Israeli politics in a state of flux as for the first time in Israel’s history, a party other than Labour or Likud has become the top party in Israeli politics. However, without the powerful force of Ariel Sharon, Kadima may not last long. Ehud Olmert must not only form a coalition, but keep it together, and that will be a very difficult task. Meanwhile, the threat of Hamas and other terrorist group remains. The next few days and weeks will be very interesting for determining the future direction of the State of Israel.

UPDATE: Binyamin Netanyahu is saying he’ll remain Likud’s leader, despite their third-place finish. Natan Sharansky would seem to be a better choice to me – much of Likud’s fall came from right-wing Russian Jews defecting to Y’israel Beiteinu. Sharansky’s background as a Russian dissident under Communism may help Likud pick up some of those votes.

Turnout was significantly lower than 2003, and many Kadima voters stayed home or voted for other parties, assuming that Kadima’s win was guaranteed. It would be interesting to see how the low turnout may have hurt Kadima and helped more radical parties like Y’israel Beiteinu.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.