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Israel Goes to Elections

Tzipi Livni will have to wait to become Prime Minister, if she ever does. After trying for close to two months to form a coalition, she has failed, and today President Shimon Peres formally informed the Speaker of the Knesset that Israel will be holding early elections, probably this coming January. This was not a widely predicted outcome: Most people thought she would somehow pull it together–especially given the likelihood, according to polls, that both Kadima and her existing coalition partners would either get trounced or maintain their present levels if elections were held. The incentives seemed to line up in Livni’s failure.

Why did she fail? Two big reasons come to mind. First, the global financial crisis made it impossible for her to commit to major financial handouts that would undermine Israel’s relative economic stability. And second, because Shas, the third-largest party in the coalition, became unusually rigid in its negotiations, eventually announcing they would prefer elections. This is extremely unusual for Shas, a party widely known to have few principles other than securing funding for its vast social and educational networks, something you cannot do as an opposition party. But Shas has a different problem to worry about: the return of Aryeh Deri, its founding father who will be eligible to re-enter politics some time next year. Only by having elections now can Eli Yishai, who has headed the party for the past seven years since Deri’s conviction on corruption charges, be assured of keeping hold of the party for the time being.

Neither of these facts were really in Livni’s hands to alter. But inevitably this will be looked at as her failure–a failure that will surely reflect badly on her party as we head into what is likely to be a very intensive election campaign. She is far more popular than her predecessor Olmert, but Kadima is still looked at as a party that achieved basically nothing in its tenure, while being plagued with corruption. Right now the polls show another shift back to the Right, with Labor getting demolished and Likud taking the lead. But three months is a long time. . .


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