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Peres To Prod Netanyahu & Livni

Prime Minister Shimon Peres Tasked with finding an equitable solution to picking Israel's new prime minister

Netanyahu and Livni refusing to budge

Public Opinion Growing For Likud & Kadima To Form National Unity Cabinet

Shimon Peres (Photo: Amit Shabi)

Israel state president Shimon Peres will require his entire political prowess to resolve the disputed outcome of Israel's recent election. No clear winner emerged, although the Likud's Binyamin Netanyahu and Kadima's Tzipi Livni both claim victory. Netanyahu argues that the rig is ht wing bloc of parties took more seats, while Livni contends that she won the more actual votes than did Netanyahu.

One of the few things that can be said with certainty about the disputed election result is that Israeli voters made a statement-they are fed up with one-sided concessions to the Palestinians that have brought nothing in return but a torrent of Qassam rockets from the Gaza Strip

President Shimon Peres at age 85 has pursued a long and illustrious career in Israel's political life. Now he faces one of his most daunting challenges - to find a legitimate and fair solution for the heated dispute over whether he should appoint Binyamin Netanyahu or Tzipi Livni to eventually become prime minister.  Legitimacy is of the utmost importance if the new prime minister is to be accepted by the country as a whole. With Israel facing the threat of a nuclear armed Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah provocations and the faltering economy, the stakes are exceedingly high.

One of the few things that can be said with certainty about the disputed election result is that Israeli voters made a statement - they are fed up with one-sided concessions to the Palestinians that have brought nothing in return but a torrent of Qassam rockets from the Gaza Strip. This is what caused used the swing to the right which has decimated the left wing of Israeli politics.

Tzipi Livni | Bibi Netanyahu (Photo: Amit Shabi)

But which party actually can be said to have one? Tzipi Livni of centrist Kadima contends that she did because her party took 28 seats in the 120 member Knesset. Binyamin Netanyahu argues that although his Likud took one seat less than Kadima, the combined right wing parties took more mandates as a block and therefore he should get the nod from President Peres to form the next coalition government. Who is right? This is perhaps the greatest dilemma ever faced by an Israeli president who is charged with consulting all the Knesset parties to pick a candidate for forming a new coalition.

The conclusion is that although Israeli voters went to the right they did not give the leader of the biggest right wing party a clear-cut victory. It will now be up to President Peres to cut this Gordian knot

At face value, it would appear to be only fair that if the right wing parties are now a majority in the new Knesset, the next prime minister should come from the right wing. In other words, Binyamin Netanyahu and this is what the Likud contends. Shas, the National Union and Jewish Home have said they will recommend Netanyahu when they meet with President Peres their combined seats with the Likud give Netanyahu 45 seats compared to only 28 for Livni because no other party has yet said it will recommend Livni. However the Kadima leader rejects this out of hand. She asserts that if her party got more votes than Likud this means they prefer her rather than Netanyahu as prime minister. Moreover, even amid this overall trend to the right by Israeli voters, Netanyahu himself actually failed in rallying a similar show of support for his leadership. There is also merit to Kadima's claim.

Avigdor Lieberman (Photo: Amit Shabi)

Avigdor Lieberman's 15 Knesset members continue to hold the balance of power in light of the situation. Although Lieberman's far-right stand on the Palestinians is closer to Netanyahu, Lieberman also has a domestic agenda on civil marriage that is near to Livni. The Kadima leader does not have to take into account the objections of the ultra-Orthodox party Shas as does Netanyahu.  The conclusion is that although Israeli voters went to the right they did not give the leader of the biggest right wing party a clear-cut victory. It will now be up to President Peres to cut this Gordian knot. In Israel, the state president's role is supposed to be above party politics; he symbolizes the national interest.

At present, the results of the recent election indicates that a majority of Israeli voters are now at the center and right of center in the political spectrum-together the Likud and Kadima totaled 55 that's six less than the required majority in the 120 member house. If Likud and Kadima joined forces, various options would be open for forming a unity cabinet that could implement a center-right of center approach to both foreign and domestic policy. Such a course of action would appear to be in keeping with the  election's outcome. Netanyahu has made clear he prefers a national unity government with Kadima rather than a narrow right-wing ultra-Orthodox coalition that would tie his hands when it comes to foreign policy. Public opinion also prefers a broad-based unity government led by Likud and Kadima. The key question is who will be number one; neither Netanyahu nor Livni show any sign of backing down.

Peres, the ultimate original thinker, can be expected to go beyond the actual naming of a candidate for forming the coalition and to prod both Netanyahu and Livni into taking their parties into a unity government

One Israeli solution, actually implemented by Peres himself with the Likud's Yitzhak Shamir was the rotation of the four year premiership; each leader served as prime minister for two years. This is indeed being bandied about today. Although the Likud rejects the idea Kadima is more open but insists that Livni gets first crack.

If past experience is any indication, Shimon Peres can be counted upon to come up with some novel ideas - the country is looking to him for the solution. Peres, the ultimate original thinker, can be expected to go beyond the actual naming of a candidate for forming the coalition and to prod both Netanyahu and Livni into taking their parties into a unity government. The country will now be watching the President's every move keeping in mind that Peres himself was a former member of Livni's Kadima party. Shipped in The 'art of the possible' is now facing one of its toughest tests ever in Israeli politics.

David Essing

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