Dunsmore: Israeli Elections

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(Host) This week’s Israeli election did not exactly meet expectations
and has created considerable uncertainty about the future direction of
the country. This morning commentator and veteran ABC News foreign
correspondent Barrie Dunsmore examines possible consequences of the

(Dunsmore) Most likely Benjamin Netanyahu will again be
the prime Minister of Israel. But whether he will be heading up a
coalition that is more centrist or more conservative is an open
question. To form a government Mr. Netanyahu needs the votes of at least
61 members of the 120 seat Israeli Knesset. Before the election
Netanayhu’s Likud party, which recently joined with the mainly Russian
émigré party, controlled 42 parliamentary seats. That bloc lost a
quarter of those seats and now has only 31. So in the weeks ahead there
will be intense negotiations to determine which among the smaller
parties will be willing to join a new Netanyahu coalition.

the election it was widely predicted that the new ultra-conservative
Jewish Home party would come in second, thereby taking the next Israeli
government significantly further to the right. The leader of the Jewish
Home party is Neftali Bennett, a 40yr old former Israeli army commando,
who was profiled in last week’s New Yorker magazine. Evidently Bennett
made a fortune as a software entrepreneur while living for a time on New
York’s Upper East Side. He is now a Jewish settler leader who
completely rejects any notion of a Palestinian homeland and wants to
annex much of the West Bank – the core of any future Palestinian state.
In Bennett’s words, " I will do everything in my power to make sure they
never get a state."

While Bennett’s Jewish Home party failed to
become the number two party in the Knesset, it did win 12 seats which
means it will certainly be in the mix in the coalition negotiations.

the big surprise of the election was Yair Lapid, an attractive,
prominent journalist and former television anchorman, who last year
founded the centrist party known as Yesh Atid which is Hebrew for There
is a Future. Having won 19 seats his party is now the second largest in
the legislature which makes Mr. Lapid a major factor in the formation of
the next government.

What conditions Lapid will set for joining
forces with Netanyahu are unclear, as his election campaign focused
almost entirely on domestic matters. The one issue which appeared to
have the most resonance was his demand for an end to special treatment
for thousands of ultra orthodox Jews who are exempted from compulsory
military service and allowed to opt instead for full time government
subsidized religious studies. If Lapid sticks with that demand it will
complicate matters for Netanyahu who will still need religious party
backing to get to his majority.

As to whether the future Israeli
government will be more amenable to resuming serious negotiations with
the Palestinians and/or less determined to attack Iran’s nuclear
facilities, at this stage no one can say with certainty. But it is
significant that while most pundits expected this election to result in
an even harder line Israeli government, it now seems that will probably
not be the case.

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