Inside Israel and the Palestinian Territories
I won! No, I did…
It’s a recipe for trouble and it will be down to Israel’s veteran president, 85-year-old Shimon Peres to sort it out. In sum, Livni of the ruling Kadima centrists, has a one-seat lead over former premier Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud. But neither party has as much as a quarter of the seats in the Knesset. Cue possibly weeks of haggling among the parties on forming a coalition government. By tradition, Peres ought to ask the leader of the biggest party – thus far, Livni – to try and build a cabinet first. But Netanyahu, rejecting her offer of joining her in a national unity government, says that overall the new parliament has a right-wing majority and that he is therefore in the better position to forge a stable administration.
Peres is no stranger to Israel’s convoluted coalition arithmetic. In 1984, he agreed to one of the weirdest election outcomes seen when, as left-wing Labour party leader, he did a deal with Yitzhak Shamir of Likud whereby the two spent two years each as prime minister during the four-year term of the parliament. There has been talk again today of the famous “rotation”, though few remember it with much fondness and recall a time of general political stalemate. Anxious to push for peace in the Middle East after Israel’s war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip last month, new U.S. President Barack Obama will be among those concerned at the gridlock.
Also likely to get more attention in the coming days may be perennial talk of electoral reform in Israel, notably restricting seats in parliament to fewer parties in an effort to promote larger, more stable blocs. Avigdor Lieberman, the far-right Russian-speaking immigrant whose Yisrael Beiteinu party leapt past Labour into third place, proposes raising the threshold for winning seats in parliament from the present 2 percent to 5 percent – a level in line with, for example, Germany, where 5 parties currently sit in parliament compared with the dozen expected to have seats in the Knesset. The Israeli parliament’s web site notes some of the other ideas for electoral reform that have been discussed. The complex party matrix is, however, an obstacle in itself to reform of that system.
Lieberman, a potential kingmaker whose rhetoric has alarmed Arabs at home and abroad, also wants a strong presidency for Israel to cut through decades of deadlock as he sees it. For now, the president has few clear-cut powers beyond the ceremonial. But Peres (right), who has been a leading political figure throughout Israel’s 60-year history, now finds himself with potentially enormous influence in his choice of who will form the next government. Without a written constitution, he has a variety of laws, parliamentary regulations and 60 years of tradition to consider as he looks for a solution.
Confused? So must Peres be as he tries to untangle what the Yedioth headline calls the ”Political Knot”.
(PICTURES: Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper front page, Feb 11, 2009. REUTERS/Kineret Kaufman; Israeli President Shimon Peres looks through binoculars. www.president.co.il )