Elections in Israel create local sensation

29.03.06

BEIRUT/TEL AVIV, (RIA Novosti's Marianna Belenkaya, Artur Gabdrakhmanov) -


The March 28 elections to the Israeli Knesset (parliament) created a local
sensation, but will not influence the future of the region. Just as polls
predicted and all parties to the Middle East peace process expected, the
election victory went to Israel's governing party, Kadima, led by Ehud
Olmert.

For the first time in Israel's history, its voters were not torn between the
right- and the left-wing parties, the "hawks" and the "doves". The Israeli
political scene is such a mishmash right now, that it is difficult to draw a
line between the two sides. This mean many voters were left feeling
indecisive. In general, Israelis have grown weary of politics, which is why
only 63.2% of the country's eligible voters came to polling stations and
quite a few voted for the third option.

The defeat of Likud, which had led either the ruling coalition or the
opposition, came as a surprise, even more so because it actually came in
fifth, after the biggest ultra-religious party Shas and Avigdor Lieberman's
party Yisrael Beiteinu (Our Home Israel).

All the recent polls predicted that the Russian-speaking politician would
surge ahead in the election race. The majority of the Russian-speaking
population voted for him.

Another sensation was created by the pensioners' party, Gil, which was
predicted to get no more than two seats, but it instead received seven
mandates. Now it will be able to exert substantial influence on the creation
of a government coalition and the adoption of decisions on crucial matters.

This is not the first time in the nation's history that parties with fewer
seats in the Knesset decided the voting results, because none of the main
political forces could secure enough seats in the parliament to ensure the
adoption of requisite resolutions.

This time, Olmert's Kadima received 28 of the 120 seats, and 20 seats went
to the Labor Party (Avoda), led by Amir Peretz. Even if they join forces,
the two parties will be unable to work without assistance, as at least 61
mandates are necessary to form a ruling coalition.

However, Kadima and Avoda will find enough allies in the Knesset to form a
coalition and will even have the possibility for maneuver among parties.
There are several options for a coalition, but the choice is to be made
during inter-party talks. Israeli sociologists predict that the distribution
of ministerial seats may take long, and that the multiparty government may
crumble even over minor differences.

Israel has had one government crisis after another in the past decade. The
March 28 elections were the fourth early elections held in the past seven
years.

Internal instability in Israel is affecting the Middle East peace process,
as attempts to accelerate the road map could provoke a government crisis.
Olmert won only a minor advantage over his rivals, which will restrict his
maneuvering abilities and force him to listen to the opposition and future
coalition partners. However, he is resolved to implement his plan of marking
Israel's borders by 2010, which promises new debates over the Middle East
settlement in Israel and abroad.

The future Israeli prime minister has already called on Mahmoud Abbas, the
head of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), to resume talks. Abbas
also expressed his readiness to talk with Israel before the election results
were made public.

But the talks' future looks vague because the Palestinians cannot be
satisfied with Olmert's plan of marking the borders of Israel (and
consequently, the future Palestinian state), which he announced before the
elections. Abbas will not accept this and the Palestinian parliament and
government led by the radical Islamic movement Hamas will not ratify it.

At the same time, the future premier hinted that if his plan were not
supported by the Palestinians, a decision would be made unilaterally.
However, this is quite impossible without the support of the international
community.

It is not surprising therefore that Avigdor Lieberman told RIA Novosti: "The
Quartet is the main asset with whom to discuss the marking of permanent
borders, and next come our more influential neighbors Egypt and Jordan."

The leader of Our Home Israel said practical plans could be discussed only
after solving the problem with certain intermediaries and neighbors.

Olmert knows this very well and is ready to make the issue of permanent
borders a subject of broad internal dialogue and consultations with foreign
partners in the peace process.

This promises a long and difficult negotiating process, which will have to
cross many obstacles on both sides of the conflict, from terrorist attacks
and military operations to government crises. But then, this is how it has
always been, and the Israeli elections have not changed anything in that
sense. They only marked the beginning of another attempt to settle the
regional conflict. -0-