Canadian Politics from Canada's Centre

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Israeli Elections: Pragmatic Shift to the Center

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Israel Goes Pragmatic
by Elliot Chodoff of Middle East: On Target (reprinted with permission)

The preliminary exit poll results of the Israeli elections show some interesting, but not particularly surprising, results. The Kadima Party, established by Ariel Sharon and led by Ehud Olmert since Sharon’s debilitating stroke, leads the pack with some 31 or 32 seats in the 120-seat Knesset. While this will guarantee that Kadima is the largest party in the race, it has slipped sharply from the predicted 42 – 44 seats of a couple of months ago.

The two former political powerhouses, Labor and Likud, eked out 20 and 12 seats, respectively, and Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel is our Home) Party surged with an estimated 12 seats, making his the third largest party in the new Knesset and possibly the critical swing votes in the formation of a government.

Exit polls in Israel tend to be skewed leftward, and the right wing parties invariably put in a better showing once all the actual votes are counted. Nonetheless, the election results are likely to be misinterpreted as a shift from the right and left toward the political center.

In fact, the Israeli electorate has abandoned the ideological parties for the more pragmatic ones. Kadima and Yisrael Beiteinu, while coming to somewhat different conclusions vis a vis policy, have arrived at those conclusions through pragmatic assessment, rather than through the distorted tint of partisan ideologies. This approach has worked to their benefit, as the age worn ideologies of the left and the right have proven to be inadequate to the task of steering Israel through the difficult period of the terrorist war she has been fighting for the past six years.

There is still a long way to go before a government is formed and presented to the Knesset for approval, but it will be the pragmatic parties that lead the effort, both in assembling and crowning that new government. Kadima leader Ehud Olmert is likely to be the next prime minister, but he will have to contend with Lieberman’s support or opposition on the way to the position. Pragmatism cuts many ways, and is a far more flexible tool than the brittle ideologies of the past.

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