Israeli election winnersseek majority coalition

If the Labor party refuses to join the coalition, Sharon will likely invite the Shinui party.

by Elizabeth Dunbar

After winning parliamentary elections Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Likud party must form a new majority coalition after its previous coalition dissolved in November.

Many – including some University students and faculty – say Sharon might be forced to join with the Israeli right wing. That union could cause more political uncertainty in Israel, especially regarding its relations with Palestinians.

“He may not be happy with the kinds of right-wing people he would have to bring in,” political science professor Martin Sampson said of Sharon.

Sharon’s Likud party garnered 37 of the 120 seats in the Knesset, an 18-seat increase. The Knesset is Israel’s

parliament. The Labor party, which left Sharon’s coalition and forced the early elections, lost six seats. A Labor party leader said the party will not join the Likud to form a coalition.

“The question that remains is whether the Likud will sever its ties with the right wing, and I don’t think it will,” said Samir Nassar, a Palestinian and member of Students for Justice in Palestine.

Omri Fine, a Friends of Israel member, said he hopes the Labor party will reconsider joining the coalition.

“(Sharon) will have to form a more right-wing coalition,” Fine said. “I think it signals to Palestinians that Israel is not willing to give up anything.”

If Labor refuses to join the coalition, Sharon will likely approach the Shinui party – a fiscally conservative and socially liberal party that came in third with 15 seats. If Sharon is able to form a coalition with Shinui, he will still need the support of other parties to make up the 61 seats needed for a majority in the Knesset.

“There’s a lot of fluidity here,” Sampson said, explaining the political uncertainty. “Fluidity means any of a number of paths could be taken in the next year.”

Sampson said the political uncertainty, especially in terms of the Palestinian situation, is caused by the fact that both Israel and the Palestinians lack unified leadership.

“On neither side do you find extraordinary support for the leadership,” he said.

Nassar said the elections do not matter as long as the Israeli army continues to occupy the West Bank and Gaza.

“Nothing changes,” he said, adding that the Palestinians’ goal should be to continue putting economic pressure on the Israeli government.

“If we keep the pressure up as Palestinians, I think we will see successive Israeli governments fail in a short period of time,” Nassar said.

As the United States moves closer to war with Iraq, Sampson and Fine said there are still questions about what role Israel will play.

“I think most of the answer to that is in the hands of the United States,” Sampson said.

Internal security policy and a potential peace process, Fine said, will also hinge on the United States.

“Whatever happens politically,” Fine said, “we know that the U.S. is the one that will dictate how the peace process will go.”

-The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Elizabeth Dunbar covers international affairs and welcomes comments at [email protected]