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.
Rush Limbaugh, just before his blitz on black quarterbacks, said presidential candidates claiming Jewish ancestry is ìgetting out of hand.î Limbaugh was ticked off by reports that the retired Gen. Wesley Clark is descended from five generations of rabbis before being raised as a Christian.
As Israelis buried their dead following back-to-back Palestinian suicide bombings Sunday in Tel Aviv that killed 22 bystanders (seven of them foreign workers) political campaign commercials began running on Israel TV Tuesday night and analysts wondered how the terror attack and new political scandals would impact the Jan. 28 national election.
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.
Local Jewish leaders returned from a 37-hour solidarity trip to Israel this week strengthened in their resolve that, as UJA-Federation executive vice president John Ruskay put it, "We're all in this together."
He added that Israelis seemed committed to "stand firm, particularly after the prime minister had made such an offer for peace" this summer at Camp David. But Ruskay also sensed "an undercurrent of despondency. The choices are difficult and limited, and that's what makes this a crisis."
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.
Does the resumption this week of rocket fire from Gaza into Israel, in violation of the fragile and unofficial truce between Hamas and Jerusalem, signal a Hamas endorsement of Bibi Netanyahu for Israeli prime minister?
That’s the likely effect of renewed attacks on Israel on the eve of next Tuesday’s national elections. The rockets underscore that despite the beating Hamas took last month, the terror group still rules Gaza and can still make life miserable for Israelis, especially those living in the south.
Sunday, January 25th, 2009 James Besser in Washington
Update: I just read NY Times reporter Ethan Bronner’s interesting take on the different, seemingly irreconcilable narratives of Israelis and Palestinians, and the difficult of using “neutral” language in reporting on the conflict. Definitely worth a read. Get it here.