02/09/2009, 00.00
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Election in Israel: fears of a "stiff wind from the right"

by Joshua Lapide
The favorite - narrowly - seems to be Netanyahu. In any case, Likud or Kadima will have to form a coalition with right and ultra-right parties like that of Liebermann. Christians' fears about Shas.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews/Agencies) - About 5 million Israelis have been called to national elections tomorrow, in which 33 lists of candidates are competing for the 120 seats in the Knesset. A sharp move to the right and difficulty in building a solid majority seem to be the characteristics of this election.

The favorite for the post of prime minister seems to be Binyamin Netanyahu, the leader of the conservative Likud party. But in recent days, opinion surveys have shown the resurgence of Tzipi Livni, head of the centrist Kadima party, which currently occupies the most seats in the government. But note must also be taken of the growth of the party Yisrael Beiteinu ("Israel is Our Home"), led by Avogdor Lieberman, which takes a hard line against Arab Israelis and Iran.

The latest projections published by the newspaper Haaretz predict victory for the right headed by Likud, which should win 66 seats in the Knesset. The group led by Kadima (made up of smaller leftist parties) should win 54 seats. According to the predictions, Kadima alone should win at least 25 seats, while Likud itself should take 27.

The fact remains, as Israeli commentators say, that "a wind from the right is blowing over the nation." And even if Kadima wins, it will not be able to do so without allying itself with other parties on the right.

The element that has determined this transition is that the most hotly debated topic in these elections has not been the economic crisis, but security. Six weeks after Operation Cast Lead, launched to stop the rocket attacks by Hamas, fears of a Palestinian threat have grown in Israel. The positions of Likud and Lieberman seem more reassuring. Netanyahu has promised that he will stop negotiations for the creation of a Palestinian state, will not permit the withdrawal of any settlers, and will seek to destroy Hamas and Iranian funding for the fundamentalist movement, offering only an "economic peace" in order to improve living conditions for Palestinians and autonomous management for some Palestinian cities.

For a number of years, the problem in Israel has been that no party has been able to win a decisive majority. Anyone who wants to govern must form a coalition. In this way, the smaller parties are able to pressure the larger parties to favor their interests, changing their policies.

As of now, it is not known what the Labor Party will do, led by Ehud Barak. It is possible that it will enter into Netanyahu's coalition, together with the conservative and ultra-orthodox parties. Livni has suggested that it could govern together with Lieberman, toning down the diametric opposition to the Palestinians that his party has sought so far. This would create problems for the Arab Israeli parties that Lieberman wants to force into fidelity to Israel, or expulsion into areas under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority.

Christians in Israel fear the entry into government - in the Netanyahu coalition - of the Shas party, a nationalist and ultra-orthodox party that now occupies 12 seats in parliament. Its politics is strongly marked by strict observance of Jewish religious practices, and by support for orthodox religious schools and opposition to other religious communities. In the past, Shas deputy prime ministers have denied entry visas for Christian religious personnel in Israel.

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