Israeli elections: Blackmail, threats and a policy or two

By Anshel Pfeffer, October 30, 2008

Israel's ruling party, Kadima, will try to run its election campaign on the promise to reform Israel's shaky electoral system. Kadima spin-doctors are planning to leverage the breakdown in coalition talks with Shas to portray party leader Tzipi Livni as a no-nonsense stateswoman who will not give in to blackmail.

Ms Livni's failure to secure a coalition, despite spending over a month negotiating with the potential partners, led her rivals within the party to criticise her anonymously as weak and indecisive. Her allies acted quickly to quash these allegations, praising the Foreign Minister for not giving in to the demands of Shas and accusing its leader, Trade Minister Eli Yishai, of blackmail.

"We have seen over the last weeks how problematic the current electoral system is," loyalist Kadima MK Shlomo Moula told the JC. "And we will be promising the public to push through a comprehensive programme of reform as soon as we are re-elected. Livni has proved now that she cannot be manipulated or threatened and people will understand what kind of a prime minister she will be."

Electoral reform will be a useful plank for Kadima to build its platform on, since Ms Livni's diplomatic plans, which include a significant territorial compromise with the Palestinians, are unpopular with many Israeli

Shas leaders were quick to counter the charges of blackmail, saying that they had made clear from the start of the negotiations that they would stand resolutely on two conditions: a return of child benefits to the levels of five years ago, and a commitment that the government would not negotiate the future of Jerusalem.

"All the polling we have carried out shows that our voters don't want us to sit in a government that will not commit itself to these two things, Shas senior negotiator Attorney David Glass told the JC. Shas, castigated by the right for sitting in the centre-left coalition, will now try to convince its constituency that it has steadfastly campaigned for the integrity of Jerusalem.

Labour and Likud now need to come up with a manifesto for the short campaign until elections in February. Labour is languishing in the polls, failing to capitalise on its leader, Ehud Barak, serving in the normally popular post of Defence Minister, and wrong-footed by agreeing to sit in Ms Livni's coalition, only to have the rug pulled out beneath its feet by Shas. Mr Barak's answer so far has been to try and capitalise on the financial crisis, saying that his party would provide an alternative to the "swinish capitalism" that
has characterised Israel's financial policies.

Likud, the main opposition party, after leading in the polls by a wide margin for the last two years, have slipped behind Kadima in this week's polls. They will portray leader Binyamin Netanyahu, a former prime minister and finance minister, as the only pair of safe hands to take care of Israel's economy at such a period and accuse Ms Livni of recklessly handling the negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.

Last updated: 6:21pm, October 30 2008