Sunday, April 02, 2006

Breaking News! Labor's Peretz, Not Kadima's Olmert, May Be Next Israeli Prime Minister

In an astonishing example of the adage, "Politics makes strange bedfellows," an Israeli right-wing party, National Union-National Religious Party (NU-NRP), today requested that Israel's President, Moshe Katzav, select Labor's Amir Peretz, not Kadima's Ehud Olmert, to make the initial effort at forming a new coalition goverment. Another nationalist right-wing party, Yisrael Beeitenu, announced its neutrality on the question of whether Labor or Kadima should form the next government. This development follows a call by Labor's Peretz for "an emergency coalition without Kadima," as reported here by Arutz Sheva (Channel 7), the independent Israeli nationalist radio and news service.

The coalition proposed by the Labor Party would include two parties of the left, Labor and Meretz, with two Hareidi (fervently religious Orthodox Jewish) parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, and the nationalist right-wing parties, Yisrael Beeiteinu and NU-NRP. It would control 62 seats, a slim majority in the 120-seat Knesset. Such a right-left coalition is possible because of Labor's insistence that further withdrawals from Yehuda and the Shomron (the so-called "West Bank") be made only in the context of bilateral negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. With Hamas governing the Palestinians, the anti-withdrawal parties of the right are more comfortable with Labor's position, which they doubt would result in further withdrawals, than they are with the Kadima policy of unilateral withdrawal from territory.

Under Israeli law, the President, who is the head of state, but not the head of government, selects the party he views as most likely to be able to form a new government to make the initial attempt at putting together a ruling coalition. If a coalition is successfully formed, the head of the lead party in that coalition becomes the new Prime Minster.

This possible astonishing turnabout might prove particularly embarrassing for the Mainstream Media Elites in the United States and Israel, who even before Israel's election this past Tuesday, March 28, had trumpeted an impending victory of historic proportions for the new Kadima Party, formed by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon prior to his stroke. This was to be the political vindication for Sharon's policy of unilateral disengagement from the Palestinians, the policy that led to the mass expulsion of Jews from the Gaza Strip and the destruction of the decades-old Jewish settlements there. It also was supposed to mark the emergence for the first time in Israeli history of a non-ideological centrist party, as proclaimed just prior to the election by Kadima's Meir Sheetrit.

President Katsav may still select Kadima's Olmert to try to form a government, since it won more Knesset seats than any other party. Indeed, Labor's chances of being selected to form a government declined on Sunday, despite the NU-NRP endorsement, when the Cental Electoral Commission, citing wrongful disqualification of some hundreds of votes for an Arab party, took one Knesset seat from Labor and awarded it to the Arab party, reducing Labor's total to 19 mandates. Nonetheless, some of the bloom has definitely faded on the Kadima rose, which has suffered a decline from projections of 40 or more Knesset seats, back in January following Sharon's stroke, to only 29 seats based on the final election results.

Moreover, the very public airings of ill-will between Kadima and Labor call into question whether Kadima's Olmert, if selected to form a coalition, would be successful. If President Katsav believes that to be the case, or if he selects Olmert, and Olmert is unable to form a coalition, the next Prime Minister of Israel may indeed be Labor's Amir Peretz.

Should this surprising possibility actually occur, remember that you read about it first on The Hedgehog Blog.


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