Rassegna Stampa Elezioni Israeliane 2009

Monitoraggio attraverso i media internazionali delle elezioni in Israele del Febbraio 2009

Netanyahu’s return looks anything but smooth

Posted by valecardia su 15 febbraio, 2009


TEL AVIV // For Benjamin Netanyahu, the road to the Israeli premiership is becoming more challenging than he might have expected.

Less than two months ago, Mr Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party was riding on a wave of public popularity that had polls predicting its success in parliamentary elections. But last week’s ballot handed Likud a narrow second-place win – with the party obtaining just one parliamentary seat less than the centrist Kadima movement – and threw the country into what is likely to be weeks of political stalemate amid uncertainty about who would become prime minister.

Nevertheless, Mr Netanyahu is still viewed as having a better chance of becoming premier than Tzipi Livni, his chief rival and head of Kadima, because he could muster more support from Israel’s right-leaning new parliament to form a governing coalition.
But Mr Netanyahu’s long-sought comeback to the premiership, a position he occupied in 1996-1999, appears to have become anything but smooth sailing.

Long before the elections, he had pledged to form a broad Likud-led government coalition with parties including Kadima and the left-of-centre Labor movement if elected. But Kadima, which won 28 parliamentary seats as compared to Likud’s 27 slots, is now challenging Mr Netanyahu’s claim to the premiership and is feverishly bidding to block his efforts to form a coalition with other parties. Furthermore, Labor – whose leader, Ehud Barak, Mr Netanyahu had hoped to keep in his current post as defence minister – appears to be headed to the opposition to rehabilitate itself after the once-mighty party lost a third of its current number of parliamentary seats in the elections.

Now, Mr Netanyahu’s most feasible option for cobbling together a governing coalition is by drawing ultra-religious and ultra-nationalist parties that together with Likud account for a 65-member majority in Israel’s 120-seat parliament.

But such a coalition would include factions that oppose negotiations with Palestinians and the country’s Arab neighbours and may undermine Israel’s relations with key allies in the US and Europe.

One faction bound to be in the coalition is the ultra-nationalist National Union Party, which won four parliamentary seats and includes among its members Dr Michael Ben Ari, seen as possessing the most far right views in Israel’s upcoming parliament.

Dr Ben Ari is an adherent of Rabbi Meir Kahane, who publicly called Arabs “dogs”, advocated the forcible deportation of all Arabs from Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip and whose Kach party was declared racist and banned from the parliament in the late 1980s.

Concern about a right-wing governing coalition is already threatening to weaken Israel’s ties with western countries. The European Union last week decided to freeze plans to upgrade its relations with Israel until a new government renews the peace process with the Palestinians – a move that could cost the Jewish state in foreign investment, trade incentives and scientific research grants, according to a report in the left-wing Haaretz newspaper.

While Mr Netanyahu may have little choice but to form a right-wing government, even putting together such a coalition no longer appears certain. His key headache involves Avigdor Lieberman, head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, which won 15 seats in the ballot and became the third-largest parliamentary faction. Without Mr Lieberman’s support, Likud would be left with only 50 members in its coalition – short of the parliamentary majority needed to form a stable government.

Mr Netanyahu’s attempts to offer Mr Lieberman prominent government positions such as the finance, justice or interior ministries are believed to be futile because of a police investigation into allegations that Mr Lieberman was involved in money laundering, bribery and falsifying corporate documents. Mr Lieberman has denied all wrongdoing.

Additionally, Mr Lieberman has conditioned his support for Mr Netanyahu on key demands that include introducing a form of civil marriages and easing the conversion process to Judaism.

The ultra-Orthodox monopoly on Israel’s personal status issues such as marriage and divorce have made it impossible for about 300,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union – many of whom are supporters of Mr Lieberman, an immigrant from Moldova – to wed in the country because they are not recognised as Jewish by the country’s religious establishment.

But such demands are anathema to the ultra-orthodox Shas party, which won 11 parliamentary seats in the elections. Late last week, Shas announced it is joining forces with the United Torah Judaism Party – which has five parliamentary slots – in a move seen as a veiled threat to pull their support from Mr Netanyahu should he give in to Mr Lieberman’s calls to undermine the country’s ultra-Orthodox authorities. Until now, Mr Netanyahu is believed to have assumed he had won the backing of both of the religious parties for a coalition.

In the meantime, Mr Lieberman is not making Mr Netanyahu’s coalition efforts any easier.

The legislator has raised eyebrows in the political establishment by travelling to Belarus for a surprise holiday in the heat of the coalition-building negotiations, in what appears to be a ploy to leave a question mark over his support for Mr Netanyahu.

Such moves challenge Mr Netanyahu’s bid to return to the premiership and heighten his pressure to put together a coalition before next Wednesday, when Israel’s president is scheduled to begin deciding which party leader to tap for forming a government.

Vita Bekker, Foreign Correspondent

Last Updated: February 15. 2009 9:30AM UAE / February 15. 2009 5:30AM GMT




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