Right wing hardliners gain Knesset seats in Israeli elections

by Ashahed M. Muhammad (FinalCall.com)

Days and possibly weeks of political wrangling and deal making lie ahead after Israel’s national elections ended on Feb. 10 with the Right Wing bloc scoring huge gains in The Knesset, Israel’s legislative branch.

With 3.5 million votes cast, the Kadima Party led by Israel’s foreign minister Tzipi Livni won 28 seats and the right-wing Likud Party led by Benjamin Netanyahu—who previously served as Israel’s PM from 1996 to 1999—won 27 seats.

Israel’s parliamentary procedure does not provide a “winner take all” electoral process like the United States of America. After the elections, the Israeli President Shimon Peres will meet with the different factions and then designate a prime minister that he believes has sufficient political strength to bring together a ruling coalition of 61 seats in the Knesset establishing a clear ruling majority.

Palestinian activist and businessman Sam Bahour lives in the occupied West Bank. He and others living in the region believe the large amount of votes in favor of an obviously hawkish Israeli electorate indicates that Israelis have chosen a path leading to continued conflict.

“The issue is not the person sitting in the Prime Minister position as much as it is the ideology that all Israeli candidates were holding, one that clearly reflects Israeli's inability to seriously realize peace. Instead of peace, they all flexed their muscles against Palestinians which reflects a mindset of war and fear, not one of peace and reconciliation,” Mr. Bahour wrote in a reply to an email from The Final Call. “Furthermore, for peace to be realized in Israel a third party is going to have to impose it on them. That 3rd party is the U.S. So, the real question in my view is, is peace possible with Obama?”

Ms. Livni, a former Mossad agent and protégé of Ariel Sharon, scored a narrow victory, but is currently seen as too politically weak to establish a coalition government. She failed to form a coalition government after being elected the leader of her party in September 2008 and her slim victory in this election shows that her candidacy so far has been unable to generate the excitement needed to score a decisive mandate.

Though Ms. Livni and Kadima are described in the media as centrists, all four main political parties in Israel are Right Wing, and Kadima is perhaps the center of the right.

Mr. Netanyahu and the Likud were opposed to the 2005 Israeli pullout from Gaza, under then prime minister Ariel Sharon. Mr. Netanyahu’s conservative platform appeared to resonate with a sizeable portion of the Israeli voters. The Likud Party looks to have enhanced its presence in the Knesset and the Right Wing nationalist bloc appears poised to unite under his leadership.

The militant ultranationalist Avigdor Lieberman of the Yisrael Beiteinu Party (translated, Israel Our Home) has also emerged from the elections in a strengthened position to exert influence in the formation of a coalition government after winning 15 seats. Mr. Lieberman ran a hard line, xenophobic campaign largely questioning the loyalty of Israel’s 1.4 million Arab citizens. Additionally, YB advocates the formation of a purely Jewish state even if it means expatriation of the Arab population whom he has described as forming a dangerous “fifth column.”

Lieberman has already given preliminary signs that he will join with Netanyahu and the Likud Party, of which he used to be a member.

“It’s true that Tzipi Livni won a surprise victory, but what is more important is that the right-wing camp won a clear majority…We want a right-wing government. That’s our wish and we don’t hide it,” Mr. Lieberman told supporters at his campaign headquarters in Jerusalem shortly after election results were announced. “We defined the issues. Loyalty. No loyalty means no citizenship,” said Mr. Lieberman, an immigrant born and raised in the former Soviet Union.

Mr. Bahour believes that Mr. Lieberman’s talk is not just rhetoric.

“He is very dangerous, but even more so now that he wields so much power inside the government. Israeli papers speak of him as ‘racist’ and ‘fascist.’ Coming from Israeli writers, that tells you a lot,” wrote Mr. Bahour.

During the campaign, Mr. Lieberman also reiterated his party’s hard-line stance on negotiations with Hamas saying, “We will not have direct or indirect negotiations with them nor a ceasefire. It doesn't matter which government will be formed. If we will be in this government, the defeat of Hamas will be the foremost objective.”

Current Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, of the Israeli Labor party, considered center-left, finished a weak fourth receiving 12 seats. His party’s poor showing reflects voter displeasure with the execution of Israel’s failed 2006 Lebanon War and the results of the recent 22-day assault on Gaza in which many Israelis questioned the timing and whether the goal was achieved.

Palestinian Human Rights Activist Mazin Qumsiyeh, currently living in Bethlehem also responded to questions submitted via email by The Final Call. He said there is hope for Israel, but only if they shed the old leadership whom he referred to as “ossified Zionists.”

“It can transform itself and become a ‘light unto the nations.’ There are many Israelis who are trying hard to do that. In Beit Sahour we heard from 5 ‘refusenicks,’ young Israelis who refused to go to the military and were jailed. I found myself mesmerized by how intelligent and perceptive these 18-19 year olds were. Perhaps they should be the ones leading Israel instead, of the ossified 65-85 year old racist Zionists,” wrote Mr. Qumsiyeh adding that the Israeli boycotts, divestment and sanctions movement is growing worldwide. “It may be the only way to save Israel from itself,” he said.
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