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Inside Israel and the Palestinian Territories

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An ageing body politic

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The ageing executive body of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction is trying to emerge from its current congress in Bethlehem with a “new look” and a “new image”  – not easy when the youngest member of the executive is 70-years-old and the oldest 87.

“I am sorry. I have Alzheimers,” joked one Fatah member during the congress when he realised he had forgotten to bring the list of candidates that he was supposed to vote for in the group’s first get-together in 20 years.

Even the group’s one-time ’young guard’ has grown old between congresses.
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One of the drivers working for a member of Fatah’s Central Committee told me that he was shocked (and a little amused) when he asked his elderly passenger for a destination expecting somewhere in Bethlehem or nearby Ramallah and was told to drive to Beirut.

Top job in the new government? No thanks!

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By Tova Cohen

Though it’s considered one of the top three cabinet posts in Israel’s government,  in these troubled times there seems to be no takers in Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party for the job of finance minister, according to the Yedioth Ahronoth daily.

Netanyahu, who is in the process of putting together a government after last month’s general election, is seeking to give the finance post to someone in his own party, but senior members are reluctant to step into this “honey trap”, the country’s top selling daily reported.

Foreign Affairs

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lieberman1Israeli newspapers are abuzz this morning as they mull over the possibility that ultranationalist Avigdor Lieberman could be appointed foreign minister in the government that Benjamin Netanyahu is working to stitch together.

The strong showing by Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel our Home) party in last month’s election – where it won the third most Knesset seats ahead of the Labour Party - has put the Moldovan-born former nightclub bouncer turned bureaucrat in a strong position in the lobbying for top ministerial posts in the new government.

You’ve set my mind at ease

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peresnetanyahuIsrael’s political picture has been so unclear and complicated since an indecisive Feb. 10 election that President Shimon Peres said he asked right-wing leader Benjamin Netanyahu to put it down on paper that he had in fact agreed to accept his mandate to go out and form the next Israeli government.

“And he has put it in writing, so now my mind is at ease,” Peres joked as he announced his decision to designate Netanyahu, rather than centrist Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, as potential prime minister — once he completes that task of coalition building.

Team of rivals for Israel?

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Coalition-building in the aftermath of Israel’s inconclusive Feb. 10 election kicks into high gear on Wednesday, when the final results become official and President Shimon Peres begins sounding out party leaders on whom he should appoint to try to form the next administration.

To recap: neither the centrist Kadima party led by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni nor Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud won enough seats for a majority in the 120-member parliament. Kadima took 28 seats to Likud’s 27, but Netanyahu could stand a better chance of getting the nod from Peres because he is likely to have the support of a majority right-wing bloc of 65 legislators.

Army disappoints Bibi, the battle goes on

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- An Israeli election official holds a ballot for the Likud party while tallying votes at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem February 12, 2009.  REUTERS/Baz Ratner

“When the soldiers’ votes come in, we will be way ahead.” So forecast a senior aide to Israeli right-winger Benjamin Netanyahu just after shock exit poll findings on Tuesday showing his Likud party trailing the centrist Kadima of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni by one seat. But that result, which overturned months of opinion polls in Netanyahu’s favour, turned out to be bang on the money. Throughout Thursday, Likud supporters were banking on votes from army barracks. These were being counted a day after those of civilians and Likud had hoped that a traditional right-wing bias in the military would be enough to turn the election around and give Netanyahu the advantage – a crucial one in terms of persuading President Shimon Peres that Netanyahu, not Livni, should be invited to form a government coalition.

It wasn’t to be. As the elections committee in parliament finally faced the media, over an hour late, and then flustered through their notes on live television to declare the result, it turned out the initial result still stood. Kadima on 28 votes, Likud on 27 in the 120-seat Knesset. So, it’s all over? Not by a long way. The result isn’t absolutely final until it’s published in the official gazette next Wednesday. And from that point Peres has a week to designate someone to form a government. Livni tried and failed in November, triggering this election. Netanyahu, popularly known by his nickname ’Bibi’, says there has been a general rightward shift in the election. That has included a surge for the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu (Our Home is Israel) of Avigdor Lieberman, which elbowed past Labour into third place on 15 seats. That, Netanyahu says, gives him a better chance of forming a stable administration. Perhaps. But in 60 years, Israel’s largely ceremonial president has never passed over the leader of the party that has topped the polls. Cue more intensive negotiation. Watch this space.

Can Israel do a power-share?

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A predawn victory party for Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni had all the trappings of a fairytale, including a ballroom setting in a Tel Aviv hotel.

The woman who had edged ahead of rival Benjamin Netanyahu in a national election stood to become Israel’s first woman prime minister in 30 years, and she had surely beaten the odds to get there, just weeks after polls predicted a resounding defeat for her centrist Kadima party.

Israel votes, Palestinians groan

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Posted by Wafa Amr.

PALESTINIANS-ISRAEL/With each Israeli election since the 1993 historic Palestinian-Israeli interim peace deals, the Palestinians feel their situation has gone from bad to worse. This time, their sense of desperation deepened as they woke up to an Israeli political map strongly dominated by the right wing. People say the chances for peace and ending occupation seem more remote than ever. The editor-in-chief of the Palestinian official al-Hayat daily newspaper, Hafez al-Barghouthi, called the growing strength of the right-wingers in Israel the “Right-wing Tsunami”. Israel’s shift to the right has added to the Palestinians’ sense of hopelessness. “The victory of the Israeli right means an open invitation for the Palestinian factions to turn fanatic to confront the advocates of settlements and land theft,” Barghouthi wrote on election day.

Tzipi Livni’s centrist Kadima party led in Tuesday’s election with 28 seats, one seat over Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud in the 120-member parliament. The centre-left Labour party, which made peace with the Palestinians 16 years ago, suffered a heavy blow. The rise of Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party who has vowed to keep settlements and advocates tougher measures with the Palestinians and Israeli Arabs, has added to the Palestinians’ despair.

I won! No, I did…

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- i-won It sounds like the perfect outcome – no losers in Israel’s parliamentary election. Of course, it’s nothing of the sort. “I won!” screams this headline in the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper. Trouble is, that’s both main party leaders saying it - Tzipi Livni and Benjamin Netanyahu.

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.

It ain’t over

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A lesser blog than this one might resort to some trite cliche about how ‘it ain’t over until the fat lady sings’.

We will refrain – but it is tempting.

Despite taking the most Knesset seats according to exit polls after Israelis went to the polls – Tzipi Livni is still a long way from being anointed as Israel’s new Prime Minister.

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