Despite his decisive victory Tuesday, Ariel Sharon still finds himself in a vise: caught between his desire not to form a right-wing government that would hamstring his ability to deal with American peace demands and an Israeli public convinced that the time is not ripe to pursue peace.
Couple that with the electorate's crippling blow to the Israeli left and the strong showing of the anti-religious Shinui Party, and this election could pave the way for changes in the country's social fabric.
With Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Likud Party seen cruising to victory in Tuesday's national election, political pundits speculated on how Sharon was going to form the unity government he prefers with the Labor Party, whose leader has vowed to remain in opposition.
In a last-ditch effort to block Prime Minister Ariel Sharon from being able to form a new government after the Jan. 28 election, Labor Party leaders pledged this week not to rejoin him in another unity government.
Charges that members of the Likud Partyís Central Committee sold their votes for cash and other favors in this month's primary (and to a lesser extent allegations of voting irregularities in the Labor Party primary) have rocked the Israeli electorate, with one poll showing that one-fifth of Israelis plan to change their vote because of it.
In response to a column I wrote two weeks ago (”Electoral Reform In Israel: Needed, But Not Likely,” Feb. 20), I received several calls and notes from Israeli activists advocating for Americanizing the system who said I was too pessimistic. They insisted that change was really in the air this time after the painfully inconclusive Israeli elections, noting that more and more political leaders recognized that the old system was simply dysfunctional and had to be improved.
Being in Israel in the days just after the national elections didn’t leave me any clearer on what the next government will look like. It could be a narrow right-tilted coalition led by Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, or a broader coalition anchored by Likud and Kadima, the party with the most votes.
Netanyahu most probably would be prime minister in that case, too.