Israeli rivals battle for power after tight vote
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and hawkish ex-premier Benjamin Netanyahu were locked in a battle for power on Wednesday after a photo-finish election that could send peace talks into limbo.world Updated: Feb 11, 2009 23:55 IST
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and hawkish ex-premier Benjamin Netanyahu were locked in a battle for power on Wednesday after a photo-finish election that could send peace talks into limbo.
Livni’s centrist Kadima party won 28 seats in the 120-member parliament, just one ahead of Netanyahu’s Likud party, leaving the country facing perhaps weeks of political uncertainty.
An overall lurch to the right has made it more likely that Netanyahu will return to the nation’s most powerful post, but Livni immediately started coalition talks, meeting on Wednesday with ultra-nationalist Avigdor Lieberman.
“This is an opportunity for unity that can promote issues that are important for our two parties. They agreed to continue their contacts,” Livni’s office said after the meeting with Yisrael Beitenu leader who has emerged as a kingmaker after Tuesday’s vote.
Hardline parties gained ground on the back of the Gaza war and security concerns, and the right’s likely return to power could hamper US-backed efforts to revive the faltering Middle East peace negotiations.
“The winner is Livni, but Netanyahu holds the key,” wrote the mass-selling Yediot Aharonot after Kadima confounded pollsters with its narrow election win. “Livni won the battle yesterday, but is liable to lose the war,” declared the tabloid Maariv.
The close results risk plunging Israel into an unprecedented political stalemate as party leaders embark on furious horsetrading over the formation of the next coalition.
“Israel is waking up today into a political crisis the likes of which we’ve probably never known,” Maariv said.
Both Netanyahu — who became Israel’s youngest prime minister in 1996 — and Livni swiftly laid claim to the premiership.
“The people voted in their masses. I can feel the great responsibility to translate the power entrusted to me into deeds and to unite the nation,” Livni’s office quoted her as saying. Netanyahu told supporters on Tuesday he was convinced would be able to form the next government. “I can unite all forces of this nation and lead Israel.”
Under Israel’s political system, it is the party considered best able to form a coalition — and not necessarily the winner of the most seats — which will be tasked by the president with forming a new government.
President Shimon Peres has said he will begin consultations next week.