Tuesday 10 February 2009

Labour fourth as Israel moves right

With the exit polls closing, the early headline is that the exit polls give the Kadima party of Tzipi Livni a slight edge of a couple of seats over Netanyahu's Likud party. The loss of Likud's opinion poll lead at the ballot box is a small pinch of good news, but the shape of the exit polls (if they are accurate) this still looks probably more likely to end with a right-wing coalition with Netanyahu as prime minister than a Livni-led coalition. (Though I just flicked to CNN - which had a 'Kadima Wins' flash).

Labour under Defence Minister Ehud Barak seems to have done terribly, and is projected to come in fourth behind the far right party Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home) led by Avigdor Lieberman, whose polarising campaign proposing that Israeli Arabs must take a loyalty oath or be stripped of citizenship looks to be the story of the election. (The small left wing party Meretz is also projected to be slightly down). Shas and the other smaller religious parties may well have a decisive influence in the Knesset.

For all of the complexity, there is a great deal of difference between a Livni and Netanyahu led government, as today's sensible Guardian leader argued, though the former could easily also become a prisoner of the small religious parties. It was widely, and somewhat cynically, suggested that Operation Cast Lead in Gaza was the price the Israeli centre and centre-left had to pay to stay in power. If that was indeed the gambit, it may well have failed as Israel moves right.

Folllowing the elections online

Haaretz, the Israeli liberal newspaper has the exit polls and live result updates.

The Guardian election pages contain good background resources. (Jonathan Freedland's column on the dilemmas of the doveish voter is also a useful guide to who's who).

PoliticalBetting's live thread will be a good place to debate hypothetical coalition scenarios and, above all, bemoan the iniquities of the Israeli electoral system.


Anonymous said...

Labour have clearly done badly, yes. *But* (it seems) not as badly as the Likud did in 2006 or as badly as was looking likely before the Gaza invasion (when they were usually below 10 seats in the polls, sometimes well below). Personally I think they'd have done better if someone other than Barak was leader and if the race between Kadima and Likud was not so obviously close.
Anyway, it seems that the party is preparing to go into opposition; which might be for the best. It clearly needs time to think and to regroup.

Tom Stratton said...

I think if Netanyahou is invited to form a government we should look beyond his abhorrant views to what is possible with him in power. There is a strong possibility that it will be a hardliner that delivers a peace deal, if and when it happens, as s/he will be able to convince the conservative right that the deal truly secures Israel's long term security. It seems the election of Barack Obama will deliver a sustained pressure on both sides to begin to develop a momentum towards some sort of settlement. Netanyahu would want to avoid all confrontation with Obama, he being the most popular US president since Kennedy with a seeming determination to improve relations with Arab and Muslim counterparts. Unfortunately, Lieberman's role as kingmaker may put a spanner in the works; instead of being one the more conservative elements in a coalition, Netanyahu's conseravtive credentials will be constantly questioned by Lieberman's shameless populism and xenophobic policies. This could limit the political room for manoever if Netanyahu did decide to seek a sustainable settlement. Ultimately, however, what might seem a blow to progression could turn out to be a shot in the arm.