Confirming expectations, Israel's new centrist party was the big winner in the March 28 parliamentary elections, capturing twenty-eight seats (Haaretz). The government will likely be run by a coalition formed by the centrist Kadima, the leftist Labor party—which won twenty seats—and a handful of smaller parties (CSMonitor). The once prominent Likud party had its worst showing in years, taking eleven seats. This leaves Likud leader and former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on the ropes, with members of his own party calling for his resignation (FT).
Such an outcome would have been unimaginable a few short months ago. Then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon sent a shock through the political system by founding Kadima, drawing mass defections, and ending a generation of politics that pitted right versus left. But gone now is Sharon himself. The blow he dealt to the political system was quickly followed by an even more devastating one: a stroke that left Israel's most forceful leader in a coma (WashPost), his career at an end. These events alone would have completely changed Israeli politics. Yet a third bolt from the blue—the victory of the terrorist group Hamas in Palestinian elections—looms even more ominously over the process.
But at least one forecast related to the Hamas victory has not come to pass—it had virtually no impact on the Israeli elections, CFR Senior Fellow and Middle East expert Henry Siegman tells cfr.org's Bernard Gwertzman in a new interview. Siegman says based on the results the new government formed by Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will be "decidedly center-left" and right-wing parties will be too weak to put together any "blocking coalition." Olmert, profiled here by the Washington Post, now faces the enormous challenge of implementing his plan for unilateral disengagement from parts of the West Bank. "[Israeli security] institutions have a vested interest in the occupation and have consistently opposed any withdrawal," writes Yoav Peled, a Tel Aviv University political scientist, in this report. But political analyst David Makovsky tells cfr.org's Bernard Gwertzman in an interview, Olmert deserves credit for doing the "unthinkable" and putting forward a controversial policy initiative in the middle of an election campaign. Britain's Independent notes that Kadima's popularity "reflects at once a weariness with continued conflict and the peace process, along with a recognition of the demographic argument that a Jewish state is incompatible with wholesale occupation of Palestinian territory."
With Hamas, whose cabinet was approved Tuesday (BBC), asserting its right to ignore previous peace agreements, no one in Israel is pushing for new peace talks with the group. As the Economist put it, Israel's new consensus on the future has gone from "land for peace" to "shutting itself in, hoping for the best." Adding to the uncertainty is the U.S. stance on Hamas. Robert Satloff writes in the Weekly Standard that "the Bush administration has a policy on Hamas but no real strategy.