Is­rael’s par­ties in elec­tion tur­moil

Ac­cu­sa­tions fly as Livni’s lead thins

The Jewish Chronicle - - Front Page - BY YAAKOV KATZ JERUSALEM

ELEC­TION SEA­SON has kicked off in Is­rael this week as party leaders ac­cused one an­other of racism, cor­rup­tion and be­trayal fol­low­ing For­eign Min­is­ter Tzipi Livni’s fail­ure to es­tab­lish a new coali­tion and Pres­i­dent Shi­mon Peres’s de­ci­sion to send the coun­try to the polls.

Ms Livni, who had been given a man­date to form a gov­ern­ment by Mr Peres, an­nounced on Sun­day that she had failed her task af­ter the Shas party said it would not join the new gov­ern­ment. This was over dif­fer­ences in the amount of money Ms Livni was will­ing to al­lo­cate for child al­lowances, and over the fu­ture of Jerusalem.

The fail­ure to es­tab­lish a new gov­ern­ment sends Is­rael to gen­eral elec­tions likely to be held in early Fe­bru­ary. In the mean­time, Prime Min­is­ter Ehud Olmert will re­main head of a care­taker gov­ern­ment, un­der which sources said he will likely con­tinue to pur­sue a peace deal with the Pales­tini­ans and Syria.

Polls con­ducted this week by Is­rael’s two main news­pa­pers showed Ms Livni’s Kadima Party with a sur­pris­ingly small lead over fron­trun­ner and hard­line Likud chair­man Binyamin Ne­tanyahu. The elec­tions will be Is­rael’s third vote in six years.

One poll showed Kadima with 29 Knes­set seats — the same num­ber it has now — and Likud with 26, more than dou­ble its cur­rent num­ber in the Knes­set. An­other poll gave Kadima 31 seats and Likud 29.

Ot­niel Schneller, a mem­ber of the Knes­set with Kadima, told the JC that he be­lieved his party had a real chance at de­feat­ing the Likud in the up­com­ing elec­tions.

“The polls show dif­fer­ent re­sults and a lot can hap­pen eco­nom­i­cally and mil­i­tar­ily be­tween now and the elec­tions,” Mr Schneller said. “The main bat­tle will be be­tween Kadima and Likud and in the end th­ese are the two par­ties that should join to­gether what­ever the out­come of the elec­tions to lead Is­rael through the chal­lenges it is cur­rently fac­ing.”

Ms Livni went on a me­dia drive this week, claim­ing that her be­lief in a “dif­fer­ent type of pol­i­tics” pre­vented her from giv­ing in to what she called “ex­tor­tion” by Shas. The Charedi party fired back and ac­cused Ms Livni and her as­so­ci­ates of racism against Jews of Sephardi back­ground.

“It is in­ter­est­ing that they didn’t call the Labour Party ex­tor­tion­ists even though it re­ceived NIS 1.5 bil­lion un­der the coali­tion agree­ment,” party leader Eli Yishai said.

De­fence Min­is­ter and Labour Party chair­man Ehud Barak, who is trail­ing in the polls in third place, slammed the right-wing, which he ac­cused of “cap­i­tal­is­tic greed”. Mr Barak also called on his main two op­po­nents — Mr Ne­tanyahu and Ms Livni — to agree to agree to hold an Amer­i­can-style de­bate.

Ad­dress­ing the Knes­set, Mr Ne­tanyahu launched his elec­tion cam­paign by list­ing his po­si­tions on some of the coun­try’s most sen­si­tive is­sues — Iran, the Pales­tini­ans, and the fu­ture of the Golan Heights.

Un­der his lead­er­ship, Mr Ne­tanyahu said, Is­rael will re­tain de­fen­si­ble bor­ders and hold on to the Golan Heights. He also said that Jerusalem would re­main un­di­vided, and that if elected prime min­is­ter he would en­sure that Iran was not al­lowed to ob­tain a nu­clear weapon.

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