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Inside Israel and the Palestinian Territories

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Big Government



Usually the only hammering heard on the floor of Israel’s parliament is the banging of the Speaker’s gavel during noisy debates. But hours before right-winger Benjamin Netanyahu was to take over from outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at the head of a coalition government, carpenters were busy at work installing an additional bench to accommodate some of the 30 ministers who will serve in his cabinet.

That’s one out of four members of parliament.

Israel is no stranger to “big government”. The number of cabinet ministers in past governments over the last 20 years averaged 26.

But with Israel feeling the pinch of the global economic crisis and an incoming prime minister who has led the charge in the past against high government spending and bloated ministries, at least one Israeli newspaper chided Netanyahu with a headline reading “Size does matter”.


The additional, horeshoe-shaped government bench will be inserted into the open space in front of the current bench pictured above.

Labour joins government, but party’s future unsure


Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu Photo by Ammar Awad. Reuters.Ehud Barak signed a pact with Israel’s prime minister-designate, Benjamin Netanyahu, to join what is otherwise a right-wing government. Shortly after making the announcement, Barak pushed the deal through a tumultuous, snap vote among members of his left-centre Labour Party.

After a poor showing in a Feb. 10 election, Labour fell to fourth place in parliament with just 13 seats. In the immediate fallout from the vote, Barak declared Labour would recuperate in the opposition… perhaps trying to follow the example of Netanyahu, who’s Likud party jumped from 12 seats to 27 after spending three years on the sidelines.

Top job in the new government? No thanks!


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.

Team of rivals for Israel?







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.

Can Israel do a power-share?


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.

I won! No, I did…

- 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




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.

Tzipi Livni – man of the moment?


jfl_mg_7797-2Sex has rarely been far from centre-stage in an otherwise low-key campaign for Israel’s election on Tuesday. The fact that the ruling Kadima party leader Tzipi Livni is a woman has, however, been largely debated by allusion and suggestion, often in a  far from gentlemanly way in the still macho world of Israeli politics. So it’s striking then, in the campaign’s final days, to see Livni herself, bidding to become the country’s first woman leader since Golda Meir in the 1970s, putting the issue front and centre. Take a look at this poster, photographed in Jerusalem by my colleague Jerry Lampen.  It reads, in French, “Tzipi Livni – Man of the Moment”, or perhaps “The Right Man for the Job”. It looks like a direct response to repeated attacks from right-wing opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu especially that “she” is not ready to lead a country facing threats on numerous fronts. “She’s not up to the job,” runs one ad from Netanyahu’s Likud party. It shows Livni, slumped, with her head in her hands.

On Tuesday at 10 p.m.  (2000 GMT) we should know if Livni has been able to turn around Netanyahu’s opinion poll lead. Even if she does, it is not guaranteed that she can form a coalition government. The reason this election is being held over a year early is because Livni, taking over from the corruption-hit Ehud Olmert, was unable to cobble together a workable coalition. As my colleague Jeffrey Heller had predicted when she took over her party’s leadership, many believed the former soldiers running the other leading parties found it hard to accept her. Some saw the refusal of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party to join her cabinet as a reflection of religious sexism. That wasn’t the official reason. But Livni, a secular denizen of liberal Tel Aviv, did go out of her way, unsuccessfully as it turned out, to appeal to religious tradition. She donned monochrome clothing and swapped her favoured pant suits for long skirts when meeting Shas leaders. Even so, the Orthodox press would not even print her picture. They would airbrush her out of group photos. Or, as for other women, they might photoshop her into “a tree, or something”, one journalist at an ultra-Orthodox paper told my colleague Dan Williams.

A yawning gap



With just two days to go before Israel’s general election, opinion polls show more than a quarter of the electorate is still undecided.

Call it the yawning gap in an election race that’s largely been one big snooze.

from Global News Journal:

Israel goes to the polls via the internet

Its election time in Israel which, despite the weighty issues at stake, is always something of a let-down for people who like a bit of U.S. style political pageantry.

There are few, if any, stump speeches, rallies, debates. There is, however, blanket campaigning in the traditional media and of course on the internet as well. Here are a few campaign ads from the internet kicking off with Ehud Barak and his Labour Party.