Israel punishes Netanyahu but keeps him

2013-01-23 15:02

Jerusalem - Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu narrowly won an election in which disgruntled voters catapulted a new centrist challenger into second place and he now faces the daunting task of building a coalition.

Tuesday's vote crystallised demands for attention to bread-and-butter issues over the ambitions of religiously fired hardliners and largely sidelined foreign policy issues such as thwarting Iran's nuclear plans and Palestinian aspirations.

The right-wing prime minister claimed victory after his Likud party and its ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu ally took 31 of parliament's 120 seats, according to a near-final tally.

That made it the biggest single bloc, despite losing 11 of its previous seats. Overall, right-wing and religious parties emerged with roughly half the total, an erosion of the dominance Netanyahu had enjoyed during almost four years of deadlock in peacemaking with the Palestinians and jitters over Iran.

"A blow for Netanyahu," was the headline in the biggest-selling daily Yedioth Ahronoth on Wednesday, echoing other Israeli media homing in on the surprise surge of the Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party, runner-up with 19 projected seats.

Yesh Atid and the centre-left Labour party, which came third with 15 seats, tapped into secular middle-class resentment that tax-payers must shoulder what they see as the burden of welfare-dependent ultra-Orthodox Jews exempt from military conscription.

'Cosmetic decoration'

Netanyahu, who in two terms as premier has enjoyed core religious backing, quickly made overtures to his opponents by saying he wanted to form as broad a coalition as possible, a process that is likely to take several weeks.

A senior member of Yesh Atid, led by former television presenter Yair Lapid, said the issue of ending exemption from military service was central to the party's platform, as was reviving peace talks with the Palestinians.

"Whoever wants Yesh Atid in the coalition will need to bring these things," Ofer Shelah told Army Radio.

Palestinians reacted warily to the outcome of the poll, voicing doubts it would produce a government more willing to compromise for peace, even if it included centrist parties.

An editorial in the Ramallah-based Al-Quds daily said such parties would provide a "cosmetic decoration" for a Netanyahu-led government that would mislead world public opinion without halting a drive to expand Jewish settlement on occupied land.

"We're not seeking to make peace with this or that party in Israel," said Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, adding that peace required creation of a Palestinian state to live alongside Israel based on the lines that existed before the 1967 war.

Iran nuclear programme

Netanyahu, with his scarcely veiled threats of military action against Iran and his tough approach to the Palestinians, has had a fractious relationship with US President Barack Obama, who himself embarked on a new term this week.

"The first challenge was and remains preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons," Netanyahu said, claiming election victory at Likud campaign headquarters after midnight.

Iran denies it is planning to build an atomic bomb, and says Israel, widely believed to have the only nuclear arsenal in the Middle East, is the biggest threat to the region.

Netanyahu views Tehran's nuclear programme as a threat to Israel's existence and has stoked international concern by hinting at possible Israeli military action to thwart it.

He has shunted Palestinian peacemaking well down the agenda despite Western concern to keep the quest for a solution alive.

Now weakened by the verdict of voters, he is almost certain to need centrist partners for a stable coalition and may perhaps offer more flexibility toward the Palestinians, although few expect any breakthrough in the coming months.

'Dream government'

Israeli shares traded higher after the election, with the blue-chip Tel Aviv index up 1.5% at 1030 GMT, while the shekel held steady against the dollar, showing markets were unfased by fears of prolonged coalition talks.

Amram Mitzna, a senior member of former Prime Minister Tzipi Livni's centrist Hatnua party, told Army Radio the election had "arrested the rightward drift of Israeli society" and urged Netanyahu to heed to message delivered by voters.

He even mooted an unlikely "dream government" in which Likud would forge a strong coalition with leftist and centrist parties, excluding far-right and religious factions.

Lapid won support amongst middle-class, secular voters by promising to resolve a growing housing shortage, abolish military draft exemptions for Jewish seminary students and seek an overhaul of the much-criticised education system.

He urged Netanyahu "to build as broad a government as possible so that we can bring about real change in Israel".

Naftali Bennett, high-tech millionaire son of American immigrants who leads the hard-right, pro-settler Jewish Home party, remained a likely coalition partner despite making a poorer election showing than opinion polls had predicted.

Bennett, who advocates annexing West Bank land to Israel, told cheering supporters: "There is only one truth and it is simple. The land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel."

Relationship with Obama

US-brokered peace talks broke down in 2010 amid mutual acrimony. Since then Israel has accelerated construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem - land the Palestinians want for their future state - much to the anger of Western partners.

Aaron David Miller, once a senior US adviser on Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, said a weakening of the right might improve Netanyahu's relations with Obama.

"The fact is, if [Netanyahu] goes with Lapid and he reaches out to the centre, you're going to end up with an American-Israeli rapprochement to a certain degree," Miller told CNN.

Tuesday's vote was the first in Israel since Arab uprisings swept the region two years ago, reshaping the Middle East.

Netanyahu has said the turbulence, which has brought Islamists to power in neighbouring Egypt and elsewhere, shows the importance of strengthening national security.

Foreign policy issues barely registered during the election campaign. The next government, which is unlikely to take power for weeks, will have to tackle the stuttering economy and a budget deficit that presages spending cuts and tax hikes.

  • obaidkarki - 2013-01-23 16:00

    If Israel ain’t do it. Who will? Kleptomaniacs! Are you kidding? Likud stood no chance on its own to beat-up Obama’s darlings Yesh Atid (19 seats) and Labor (17seats) unless Likud joined hands with Nightclub Bouncer Defunct Avigdor Lieberman Party Yisrael Beiteinu. According to grassroots testimony Likud (15seats) and Yisrael Beiteinu (16 seats) that’s makes total 31 seats for Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu coalition. Left bloc garnering 58 and right wing bloc 62. Benjamin Netanyahu will be next prime minister of Israel. That’s will save Israelifirster journalists who’re infesting World News with Worthless Trash, the trouble finding storied history to taint headlines. Alas this is the ugliest form of democracy scam on planet earth. Here’s the deal.. Netanyahu said to the unemployable deranged stateless settlers who took the street to vote for him that he ain’t uproot major Jewish communities in any peace deal.. Talk is cheap. Arabspring disciplined Netanyahu and Israel kept him to wither. Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu 31 seats Balad 2 Habayit Yehudi 12 Hadash 4 Hatnuah 7 Kadima 0 Labor 17 Likud-Beytenu 31 Meretz 7 Otzma 2 Raam 3 Shas 12 UTJ 6 Yesh Atid 19 - 2013-01-23 16:44

      off the topic... United Arab List-Taal, Balad and Hadash are Muslim/Arab Israeli political parties that have performed well in this election. Every time I hear a racist who call Israel an apartheid state I ask them for proof... no proof is ever given, thus I call them racists. Israel is a democracy - and like all democracies it is not faultless - but its way better then the surrounding racist regimes of the Middle East. Case in point; Israel is the ONLY country in the Middle East & North Africa where Christian numbers are on the increase! The only apartheid in the Middle East is the one that Christians live under in Egypt, Gaza, Saudi, Iran and Iraq.

      hilton.serman.5 - 2013-01-23 17:53

      Obaidkarky. Ever been to a casino and asked for the money back that you just lost...give it a go tonight and let us know what the casino does. Arabs living in Israel in 1967 gambled with their land and lost. Pure and simple.

      fidel.uncensored - 2013-01-23 19:16

      Not according to intl law! "The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies." -4th Geneva Convention, Article 49. Enacted in 1949 to outlaw Nazi war crimes, and the irony is all lost on Zionist supporters.

      hilton.serman.5 - 2013-01-23 20:52

      Actually Fidel the Oslo accords and the Interim Agreements of 1995 to 1999 take precedent over all international legislation relating to the Israeli/Palestinian relationship.

      hilton.serman.5 - 2013-01-23 21:15

      But to address your misguided comes your legal lesson - Article 49 only applies where populations are being coerced into being transferred or where mass forcible transfers take place - neither of these was the case in 1967 so clearly article 49 doesn't apply. But more interestingly, if it did, if we analyse your point of moving citizens into occupied territory we will see that Jordan never did nor ever has had any legal title in the West Bank, East Jerusalem or any other piece of disputed land. The 4th convention only applies to occupying the land of another "high contracting party" and Jordan cannot claim title of the land. So actually we can show that Jordan was occupying land rights belonging to the Jews as protected by article 80 of the United Nations charter to live in all of Israel, East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. So Fidel...thanks for proving my point that the Palestinians have no claim to the land. Actually it's time for you to reassess who's the real occupier.

      fidel.uncensored - 2013-01-24 07:50

      The Oslo Agreement expired after 5 years, it is no longer binding!

      larry.lachman.54 - 2013-01-24 08:54

      What do you make of Hiltons legal lesson,Fidel? There are extra-ordinary dynamics at play here. Your Article 49 is better applied to Turkey, who invaded and annexed Northern Cyprus, and sovereign state, and where tens of thousands of Turkish Muslims were settled to create a Muslim majority. This is a direct flagrant violation of International Law and UN resolutions, yet nothing is made of it to the same extent as Israel's supposed transgressions.

      hilton.serman.5 - 2013-01-24 09:05

      Fidel. Israel still abides by the OSLO accords otherwise the Palestinian Civilians would be deprived of all fundamental life services. The Palestinians however have violated the agreements since Rabin was assassinated and the Palestinian militia attacked Israel as they felt Arafat had sold them out with the Deal. As far a the international community is concerned the agreement still stands.

      hilton.serman.5 - 2013-01-24 09:06

      Fidel...I encourage you to research how much Israel actually helps Palestinian civilians. You'll be amazed.

      hilton.serman.5 - 2013-01-24 09:09

      One last point do you explain Hamas's decision to restrict Israeli imports through the Israeli side of the Gaza crossing last week. If the people are in such need, why wouldn't they want as much help as possible. If there was such a barricade, why would they turn goods away

      fidel.uncensored - 2013-01-24 09:16

      Palestinians don't want to be helped by Israel, they want their land back!

      larry.lachman.54 - 2013-01-24 13:29

      Well they cannot have Israel, and they cannot have the West Bank, until they accept Israel's terms.

      themba.mazibuko.7587 - 2013-01-25 12:17

      Did you forget the ANC stays in power because of its alliances ? Is it better then any other alliance ?

      themba.mazibuko.7587 - 2013-01-25 12:32

      @fiddle The borders of Israel were adopted in 1945 by the UN from the league of nations - The borders include Judea , Samaria and ALL of Jerusalem.

  • gary.desousa.5 - 2013-01-23 16:23

    Congrats on a democratic election,now build the coalition and govern well, defend yourself from all threats and I and most likeminded South Africans support you in your endevours.

  • raymond.mcnelly - 2013-01-23 17:06

    Well done and may God guide you in this difficult task!

  • Rashida Patel - 2013-01-23 18:10

    Only people who supported apartheid in south africa, will wish apartheid, racist israel well

      hilton.serman.5 - 2013-01-23 19:22

      Rashida...pls take a moment to explain to me what in Israel resembles apartheid. Then explain how you justify the human rights abuses and violations in any of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia. If you're looking for apartheid looking in the wrong country.

      hilton.serman.5 - 2013-01-23 21:22

      Patrick and Rashida - Have a look at this clip - " Don't believe the hype. Israel isn't the problem, Israel is the solution.

      hilton.serman.5 - 2013-01-23 21:24

      Patrick...Israel is the freest and fairest country in the Middle East - once again, pls give me examples of apartheid. Just one!!!

      hilton.serman.5 - 2013-01-23 23:08

      Patrick. I prefer it when we agree and your last statement I agree with. Better economic conditions and peace are the priority of most Jews. But the claim of apartheid against Israel is a blood libel that just isn't true. The sooner people stop saying it...the sooner we can stop arguing over it and focus on the real issues. We both know that there are real obstacles to peace on both sides of the vilify and name call Israel is not the answer.

      themba.mazibuko.7587 - 2013-01-25 12:44

      @patprick Please give your definition of a zionist so we know exactly who you are talking about .

  • jojo.balela.1 - 2013-01-23 22:11

    Yes, get the orthodox jews off their butts and put guns in their hands ... Because err ... Because we want err.. peace...?!?

      larry.lachman.54 - 2013-01-24 05:57

      Lowest common denominator.

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