Though former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-line Likud Party and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s more moderate Kadima Party both claimed victory in the Feb. 10 Israeli elections, a certain beneficiary of their virtual tie was the relative newcomer Avigdor Lieberman. Mr. Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu Party placed third, winning 15 seats in the 120-member Knesset, putting Lieberman in the position of possible parliamentary kingmaker when a new governing coalition is formed. Lieberman won votes on an ultranationalist platform that includes redrawing Israel’s boundaries to transfer highly populated Arab areas to Palestinian control and the mandatory signing of an oath of loyalty by Arabs who remain in Israel.
With no political party gaining a clear majority in the elections, it is now up to Israel’s President Shimon Peres to decide which of the two top parties—Likud or Kadima—will be entrusted with forming a coalition government that may require the participation of Mr. Lieberman and his followers if it is to succeed. Accordingly, neither Kadima, which according to final poll results won 29 seats in the Knesset, nor Likud, which won 28 seats, has come out against the Yisrael Beitenu Party. President Peres’s decision may take weeks.
“We now have a fascist party in the Knesset and none of the large parties have spoken out against them. That is scary,” said the retired journalist Atallah Mansour, a close observer of Israeli politics. “With Lieberman having influence in the government, Israel is on a collision course with the United States.” Mansour noted that President Barack Obama has indicated he wants to make significant changes in the way negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians are conducted. But, he pointed out, Lieberman has taken a strong stance against the Palestinians and has been quoted as saying he wants to wipe out the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which now rules the Gaza Strip after having been separated from Fatah.
“I don’t see any difference between Hamas and Lieberman,” said Wadie Abunasser, an Arab Catholic Israeli who is head of the International Center of Consultations, a nonpartisan political think tank based in Haifa. Abunasser noted that both Hamas and the Yisrael Beitenu Party refuse to recognize the rights of the other; both advocate the use of violence; and both decline to accept past peace agreements. “The irony is that while everyone is proud of boycotting Hamas, no one is talking about boycotting Lieberman. The election of such a person as Lieberman, who is corrupt, who is saying such things, raises a lot of questions [about] how decisions are going to be made in Israel,” he said.
Mr. Abunasser also said that the enormous leap made by the Likud Party, from 12 seats to 28, indicates a worrisome and clear shift to the right by Israeli voters, which could endanger the peace process. “It is the largest-ever increase for any party in Israel,” he said. While it is most likely that a center-right coalition will be formed, there is still the possibility of an extremely conservative coalition taking the lead, said Abunasser. Regardless, the new coalition will be highly unstable, with a single party able to topple it at any moment by withdrawing its support, he added.
Mansour said that with 12 political parties likely to have representatives in the Knesset, “the government is like a broken glass shattered into a bunch of little pieces…. Not that it was much better before, but now it is even worse.”