Israel's Elections: Already Sewn Up For Likud, While The Left Fractures

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Livni
Former opposition leader of Israel's Kadima Party Tzipi Livni resigned from the Knesset in May 2012, and on Tuesday announced she is forming a new party to run in the January 2013 elections.

Israel's party primaries last weekend spelled out what most Israelis already knew: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will keep his job, and his new Likud Beiteinu right-wing alliance will dominate the next Knesset. This means the next four or so years will likely see more unilateral actions on Israel's part, similar to the settlements being discussed in the E1 area of the West Bank, east of Jerusalem.

The candidate lists, released in the past few days, reveal a mix of Knesset veterans and fresh faces, with Netanyahu securely at the head of Likud and Shelley Yachimovich retaining firm leadership of the left-wing Labor. The Likud list also reflects the hard right turn the party has taken, with several prominent moderates falling out of the top 10, Times of Israel reported

Under the Israeli system, parties rank their slates in order of preference and win as many Knesset seats as their share of the national popular votes grants them. So candidates placed farther down have less chance of being elected. There are no districts. 

"Netanyahu will have a much stronger coalition than before," said Jonny Daniels, a right-wing political consultant in Israel. There was a time when the right wing in Israel had to team with the various religious parties to form a majority, he said. Now, with the joining of Likud and the former Israel Beiteinu, led by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Daniels said big changes could be afoot, particularly in the spheres typically dominated by Orthodox Jews.

"Army service for ultra-Orthodox Jews, and the whole marriage and conversion and rite of passage could change," Daniels said, referring to longstanding and bitter debates within Israel over whether the very religious should be drafted as all other Jews are. "It's not going to become liberal, and the reforms aren't going to completely take over Israel, but you might see a more lenient view come in."

Missing from the Likud leadership list is Lieberman's deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, who announced on Tuesday over Facebook that he was being ousted after embarrassing the Turkish ambassador to Israel and doing much to wreck Turkish-Israel relations, the newspaper Haaretz reported

The primaries also revealed that the centrist Kadima party of former Prime Ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, once the largest in the Knesset, has fragmented beyond recognition. Members have defected en masse, either to the right to Likud or to Labor or the new Hatnua (The Movement), lead by former Kadima leader Tzipi Livni. Meanwhile, former Defense Minister and Labor party leader Amir Peretz announced Thursday he would be bolting Labor for Hatnua, the Jerusalem Post reported.

Livni had been widely expected to join Labor and attempt a center-left coalition against Netanyahu and Likud, but was loath to play second fiddle to Labor's Yachimovich, instead deciding to form Hatnua, further fracturing the opposition.

"Kadima's done, Kadima's dead and finished," Daniels said of the once-mighty party. "It's phenomenal that you have a party that goes from having the most amount of seats to the party that can't get into the Knesset."

Labor, heir to the party of Israel's founders and the undisputed party of government from 1948 to 1977, has a top 10 list populated by "dovish voices and social activists," Times of Israel said, in contrast to the very nationalist Likud.

Yachimovich touted her list as "incredible," and said, "We remain the only party with real, clean democratic primaries. … We taught the Likud a few things about how to organize a democratic election," Haaretz reported

Through all the back-and-forth sniping of party leaders, Daniels said that come January, little is expected to change in policywise. "Planes for E1 are going ahead full steam," he said, referring the section of the West Bank that is the center of the latest settlement controversy.

Nor does he expect any change in dealings with the Palestinian leadership. "I think the current leadership will remain under serious pressure from the international community to come to some sort of peace agreement," Daniels said. "This difference is that this prime minister understands that we have to do what's best for the security of Israel."

The Israeli right will remain popular, while the left struggles to find its message again. Particularly after the latest Gaza conflict, labeled Operation Pillar of Defense by Israel, support for compromise with the Palestinians will fade further.

"Even with Shelley Yachimovich now, she's not talking about crazy peace plans or giving away land to the Palestinians," Daniels said. "Israelis understand that the notion of land for peace is dead."

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