Sunday, October 26, 2008

Livni Fails

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, the current leader of the political party Kadima, met with Israeli President Shimon Peres to inform him she failed to form a new Israeli government. This represents a bitter and humiliating defeat for Livni, and she has spent the day in a desperate attempt to avoid this constitutionally mandated meeting with the president, already postponed once today. The religious party Shas demanded over half a billion dollars of funding for its pet projects, and a commitment to "defend Jerusalem" in any future negotiations with the Palestinians, and she refused to accede to this blackmail. It is still possible, even with this announcement, that a last minute deal will be struck, but it seems unlikely.

Livni's inability to construct a coalition will probably -- though not necessarily -- trigger "snap" elections in Israel in 90 or so days, probably February 2009. When I last wrote about Israel on the day Ehud Olmert announced his resignation as Prime Minister (July 30, 2008), I did not explicitly predict this outcome, but I sure hinted at it insofar that I expected that elections would be the likely outcome of Olmert's resignation. Back in July, I wasn't sure whether Livni or Shaul Mofaz would emerge as leader of Kadima, but in any event I was fairly certain neither would be able to create a coalition out of the current crop of political parties, and I predicted that after the mandatory coalition building efforts, it would be the case that Israel would go to elections. And so it has transpired...

What this means is that Olmert will continue as caretaker PM until elections and a new coalition are formed -- at least another 4 months. There is a chance Olmert might personally resign the PM job to clear the way for the new Kadima standard bearer, whoever that might be (Livni may not survive another internal Kadima campaign for its leadership). I've predicted the rapid demise of Kadima, a party that was created 3 years ago on the personal whim of Ariel Sharon, and has lost its raison d'etre. I still maintain that there is a very high probability that many Kadima party members will simply abandon this failed party to return to their former political homes. Thus, the main contenders for the upcoming election will be former PM Ehud Barak, the head of venerable Labor, and former PM Benjamin Netanyahu, the head of venerable Likud, and maybe Livni, head of newcomer Kadima. The two former PMs were each seperately run out of office on a rail; whoever represents Kadima will be similarly tainted. In other words, this new election will be a very divided vote, with the mainstream voter looking at three eviscerated principal parties and their respective leaders. Smaller boutique parties (catering to the religious vote, the retiree vote, the ecological vote, the leftist vote, the Arab vote, the "clean government" vote) will do quite well. The outcome of this election will be a muddled and indecisive disaster, and whatever government emerges will be made up of a weak lead party and a number of contentious coalition partners. As is the case with Olmert's interim government, at least two of these 3 parties will constitute some future Israeli government. The early hypothetical polling suggests Benjamin Netanyahu has the early lead, but not by a decisive margin. President Obama or President McCain will thus confront a festering Israel-Palestinian conflict in which the political leadership of the two sides will be weak and constrained by bitter internal division, unable to respond to American prodding to advance a peace process. Not good.

So as one political campaign winds up, another begins.

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