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Israeli Voters Select Olmert But Cut Him Down To Size

Sharon With Netanyahu's Help Devastated Likud

Labors Peretz Failed To Make The Jump From Union Boss To National Leader

Olmert and Peres (Photo: Amit Shabi)

Kadima's Ehud Olmert may have won the Israeli election but by far less than expected. Labors Amir Peretz survived his test although the party wound up with more or less the number of seats he started the campaign. Likud's Binyamin Netanyahu has left his party in tatters.

:: IsraCast Audio ::

Ehud Olmert has risen to power on the coattails of the ailing Ariel Sharon. He has won the Israeli election by default and his real baptism of fire is just around the corner.

It was odd man out in the Israeli election campaign. Israeli voters faced a true dilemma. After the almost mythical Sharon, they had to choose between three top lackluster candidates. Kadima's Olmert, was the guy in charge after the Prime Minister suffered his stroke. It is a moot question if Olmert could have become PM for real without the sudden departure of Sharon. He then stepped into the job and kept the Kadima team on track. Olmert made few gaffs like declaring two weeks ago that: We've already won the election! For the most part he tried to play it cool though at times he turned to bravado by trying to act more Sharon than Sharon. When the Kadima polls soared to over forty, there was a voter backlash. Lets not get carried away with Olmert, who is this guy anyway. The electorate then cut Kadima down to size with only 28 mandates.

Fortunately for Olmert, he had two things going for him the two other key candidates. First, the Likud's Bibi Netanyahu who triggered Sharon's bolting the Likud and forming Kadima. If not for his impulsiveness, Netanyahu could be prime minister today. As former Finance Minister, Netanyahu deserves credit for implementing the necessary welfare cuts to get the economy back on track. But he got carried away and was guilty of over-kill. Traditional low-income Likud voters were hardest hit and they took their revenge in yesterdays ballot. Garnering an appalling eleven seats it is hard to see how Netanyahu can carry on as Likud leader, although he declared he would. Last time, Bibi bombed out as PM and many voters still feel hes not up to the job. It is hard to escape the image that from his hospital bed in Hadassah, a comatose Ariel Sharon has also wreaked his vengeance on Netanyahu.

Then there was Labors Amir Peretz, the trade union boss who took Labor by storm and left former PMs Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak out in the cold. Peretz ran on a one-plank platform of social justice and a new deal. If Bibi had torpedoed the welfare state and converted Israel into a capitalist dog-eat-dog society, Peretz would turn the clock back. Many voters were turned on and the Labor polls jumped from 21 to 28. But alas, Israel is facing two threats of national extermination one from Hamas and the other from Iran. Peretz had no answers and no standing and so Labor plummeted back to where it started with a lowly 20 seats. Widely expected to take Labor into the coalition, Peretz will have to develop security and foreign affairs credentials in order to become a real national leader.

So Olmerts luck held out. The two other candidates failed the test leaving the door open for the Kadima leader. The Sharon momentum was enough to keep Kadima moving along until Election Day and Olmert proved he is a capable C.E.O. Olmert should now be able to form a coalition government without too much trouble. He has a good team lead by Foreign Minister Zippi Livni who is expected to carry on in her job and a rising star in former Shabak director Avi Dichter. Olmert passed his probation but not with flying colors. Peretz deserves another chance but Netanyahu appears to have flunked out. Now Olmert is on his own. Luck is a great asset for politicians but it only goes so far.

David Essing

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