Last week the new Kadima party leader, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, announced that Israel is heading for early elections. Livni won her party's leadership elections in September, putting her on course to become Israel's next Prime Minister. However Livni was unable to form a new coalition government. Therefore Israel will continue to be led by Ehud Olmert, who has promised to resign as Prime Minister as soon as a new leader can be chosen. New elections have been tentatively scheduled for February 10th.
Israel has a multi-party system, and currently there are about 12 different political parties represented in its legislature. Since no single political party holds a majority, the parties must form a coalition government. The negotiations to build a new coalition government under Livni's leadership fell apart when she refused the demands of the orthodox Shas party. One of their conditions was to make Jerusalem off limits in negotiations with the Palestinians. In calling for new elections, Livni said that she would not give in to "blackmail" and that "a prime minister is chosen first and foremost in order to promote the interests of the state, and anyone who is willing to auction off his ideals for a seat is not worthy of sitting in it."
Livni's decision to call for early elections is a gamble, but it seems the bold move may have already won her some votes. Past opinion polls have suggested that, if new elections were held, Likud leader and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be the favorite. However more recent polls indicate a shift in public opinion.
New polls released this week showed Livni's Kadima party ahead of Netanyahu's Likud for the first time in months. If elections were held today, one poll showed Kadima would finish with 29 seats, ahead of Likud's 26, while another showed Kadima with 31 and Likud with 29. Of the 120 seats in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, Kadima currently has 29 and Likud has 12.
A lot could change in the next couple of months as the election gets closer, but experts say it will probably be a close race with Livni and Netanyahu as the clear frontrunners. Netanyahu opposed Israel's withdrawal from Gaza and is against further land concessions. He also argues that a Palestinian state would quickly fall into the hands of Islamist militants. In stark contrast, Livni has pledged to continue peace talks with the Palestinian Authority and advocates the creation an independent Palestinian state.
Meanwhile, the outcome of the presidential election in the United States this week could determine if Israel chooses to target Iran's nuclear facilities before the end of the year. Iran's nuclear facilities will soon be operational, the window of opportunity is closing, and tensions are on the rise. In fact, there have even been reports that Iran may strike first. The Iranian air force has also conducted large-scale military drills simulating an attack on Israel. Tehran's media claims the exercise tested its air force's ability to fly to Israel and back without refueling, as well as its ability to jam US and Israeli electronics and radar.
At this point, however, only one thing is certain. Early elections in Israel means the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks will be put on hold. If President Bush is still hoping to reach an agreement by the end of the year, before he leaves office, he will be disappointed.
• The Struggle for Jerusalem - Strategic Trends
• Betrayal Of The Chosen - 66/40 Radio Broadcast - Listen Free!
• The Sword of Allah - 66/40 Radio Broadcast - Listen Free!
• Hosea Can You See? - 66/40 Radio Broadcast - Listen Free!
• Poll Puts Livni, Netanyahu in Dead Heat - Jerusalem Post
• Livni Takes Poll Lead as Israel Heads for Election - The Independent
• Livni's Gamble - Times