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Local observers predict Israeli government won't last full term
February 18th, 2009
Milwaukee’s emissary from Israel; an Israel-born, Madison-based political scientist; and an adjunct assistant professor of Jewish studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee all agree on one thing about Israel’s recent elections:
Whatever kind of coalition government is formed, and whoever will lead it, it probably will not last a full four-year term. Israel’s electorate is too sharply and closely divided and its political system is too unstable.
On the one hand, the centrist Kadima party, headed by Tzipi Livni, won the largest number of seats of any one party in the Knesset, with 28. However, the parties on the right — of which the largest is Likud, headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, which won 27 seats — won a larger total number of seats, more than 60 in the 120-member Knesset.
So either Livni or Netanyahu are likely to be the one to form a coalition in the coming weeks, but the three Wisconsin observers all doubt either can form a government that will endure full term.
Rakefet Ginsberg, Israel emissary and director of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation’s Israel Center, told The Chronicle that she has read “a lot of opinion” from Israel that “we can’t have stability” in Israel’s government.
“The feeling is that nobody really won,” she said. “They both won, and none won.”
“The system is problematic,” she said. “We have to change the way we vote.”
Israel-native Nadav Shelef is assistant professor of political science at UW-Madison. He told The Chronicle in a telephone interview that it was a “reasonable prediction” that any coalition will not last full term.
“It’s been a long time since an Israeli government has lasted a full four years,” he said. Because the electorate is split on “key issues,” from how to deal with the Palestinian Arabs to religion-state relations, “no party has enough power to deal in its way” with these issues. They have to make “so many concessions to partners,” he said.
Tim Crain, adjunct professor in the Center for Jewish Studies at UW-Milwaukee, agreed that an enduring coalition is unlikely. “It is going to be difficult for anybody to have a clear voice,” he said. “It is a very volatile political environment.”
All three observers also said that the election results showed a slight shift to the right, primarily because security was the top issue in the campaign.
In the 2006 elections, said Ginsberg, the politicians gave speeches about “internal problems.” In 2009, they spoke “not about the poor, the gaps in Israeli society, but only about security and relations with the Palestinians and mainly Gaza,” she said.
Shelef said Israel’s electorate “sort of endorsed the right wing more than the left.” He thinks Israelis divide into three — those who believe “no negotiation” with the Palestinians “is ever possible; people who say it is possible, but not now; and people who say it is possible and should be done now.”
But, Shelef added, Israelis have firmly rejected “unilateral withdrawal of any sort” after the experience of Gaza, when Israel unilaterally withdrew only to see the terrorist Hamas take power and launch missiles at Sderot and elsewhere. “The idea is quite discredited.”
Crain said the shift represents “the inevitable pendulum swing you see in any democratic society.” And he agreed that Israelis’ concerns about national security primarily led to the result.
Some observers have said, according to Crain, that with this tilt to the right, the Israeli-Arab peace process is dead. Crain agrees “from a short term perspective that may be the case, or it may be put on hold.”
Nevertheless, though cautious about predicting, Crain said he feels optimistic that “the conflict will be resolved at some point.”
“What is tragic for both these sides is that everything that could go wrong for them has,” he said. “They are long overdue for good luck.”