Oct 28, 2008

Heading To New Elections

By David Dolan

Israeli prime minister designate Tzipi Livni announced on October 26 that she had failed to put together a new coalition government after struggling to do so for over one month. This came soon after President Shimon Peres granted her a two week extension to form a government. When her coalition building efforts fell apart, Livni called for new national elections to be held within three months time, meaning sometime early next year.

Despite signing a preliminary coalition accord with the 19 seat Labor party, the five week negotiating period proved insufficient to forge a majority 61 seat government after the 12 seat Sephardic Orthodox Shas party balked at joining her dovish government. This came in the wake of outgoing Premier Ehud Olmert’s controversial revelation in late September that Kadima party leaders are prepared to hand over the eastern half of Jerusalem and most of Judea and Samaria to the Palestinians as part of a final peace deal.

Understanding that their religious rank and file would fiercely resist such a handover, Shas politicians announced on October 24 they would not join a Kadima-led coalition, and would instead work to hold new Knesset elections. Most public opinion surveys predict a fresh national vote will bring opposition Likud party leader Binyamin Netanyahu back to power. Analysts said Livni’s apparent failure to form a viable government spelled the end of the Bush administration’s frenetic efforts to push through a final Israeli-Palestinian peace deal before George W. Bush leaves office next January.

Livni’s efforts were earlier frustrated when a small party she thought was in the bag—the seven seat Pensioners party—suddenly pulled out of coalition negotiations, saying Kadima’s offers were not sufficient to make them jump on board. Representing Israel’s growing retired population, the party’s legislators complained they had not received the benefits promised them by Olmert when they joined his coalition in 2006.