Monday, February 9, 2009

Poll tightening in Israel

It is not yet a forgone conclusion that Benjamin Netanyahu is to be Israel's next Prime Minister as polls show ahead of tomorrows general election that the gap is narrowing between the Likud party headed by Netanyahu and the Kadima party led by current foreign minister Tzipi Livni. The situation is as follows.

The Background
The Likud party has been hurling accusations at the ruling Kadima Party for three years now that they are soft on terrorism. The Likud opposed the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza and fiercely criticised the conduct of the July 2006 war with Lebanon which they claim was ineffective and weak and only served to embolden Hezbollah. Netanyahu has also criticised the government for failing to confront Tehran, the "head of the snake" as he calls it. In addition they have been reminding everyone of the corruption scandal that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert got himself into which ultimately triggered tomorrows election. However Tzipi Livni has successfully distanced herself from Olmert's corrupt ways and the electorate are unlikely to punish her for that.

Six weeks ago it looked certain that the Likud would win this election and that Bibi (Netenyahu's nickname) would become Prime Minister for the second time. However with the outbreak of war with Hamas on December 27th last an opportunity (I know, it is disgusting to think of it as such) emerged for Livni and the Kadima to exorcise the Ghosts of July 06 by aggressively winning a war. It appears they have done so. It will in my opinion all boil down to how the Israeli public view the recent three week blood bath. If the general consensus is that Israel won hands down then Livni will be elected Prime Minister (the second female PM of Israel) tomorrow. But if Bibi succeeds in his efforts to portray the entire episode as a failure due to Hamas's survival and its ability to continue firing rockets then it will be a Likud government sworn in next month.

As things stand
As of now Likud are in the lead. They are expected to win between one and three more seats in parliament than kadima. Surprisingly in third place is the Yisrael Beiteinu party led by mad man (will qualify this on request) Avigdor Lieberman. Lieberman is an extremist who opposes any compromise with the Palestinians and has in fact called for all Arab Israelis to be forced to take an oath of allegiance or be expelled. In fourth place is the once mighty labour part led by current Defence Minister and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak. In the likely event that that no party wins an outright majority the next government will have to be formed by an unnatural and very interesting coalition.

The future
The election of Netenyahu would undoubtedly be a blow to President Obama and his new Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell. Bibi is emphatically opposed to the dismantling of Jewish settlements and the establishment of a Palestinian state. He did as it happens resign from government in 2005 because of Ariel Sharon's disengagement from the Gaza strip. Tzipi Livni on the other hand has been negotiating with the Syrians during the last year over the disputed Golan Heights and has shown willingness to compromise with the Palestinian territory. As I have pointed out constantly on Gubu World, 2009 is a vital year for the region. Events are I believe coming together in favour of a Palestinian state. The election of Bibi could I fear be a real spanner in the works. We will see tomorrow.

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