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26 Shevat 5763 - January 29, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Victory for Likud with 37 Knesset Seats
Meretz Falls to 6; Shinui Rises to 15; UTJ stays with 5

by Mordecai Plaut

With 100 percent of all the ballots counted aside from those of soldiers and diplomats, the Likud Party has won 37 (19 in previous Knesset) seats in the 16th Knesset, while Labor has won 19 (25). The Shinui Party got 15 (6) seats, Shas got 11 (17), the rightist National Union 7, left-wing Meretz 6 (10), United Torah Judaism 5 (5), and the National Religious Party, 5 (5). Yisrael B'Aliya headed by Natan Sharansky won 2 (6) seats, Am Echad 4 (2) seats and the Arab parties a combined 9 (10) seats.

The nationwide voter turnout was an all-time low of 68.5 percent. For the last parliamentary election in 1999, nearly 79 percent of eligible Israelis cast votes. The voter turnout in Jerusalem was higher than the national average, with 72 percent casting ballots, the Central Elections Committee said.

The overall participation was the lowest rate in the country's history as some 3.2 million out of 4.7 citizens voted. Up until now the lowest turnout was in 1951 when 75 percent of the 925,000 eligible voters cast their ballot. Also, in the special elections for prime minister that took place two years ago, only 62 percent of those eligible went to the polls.

In terms of percentages, some of the results were as follows: Likud Party 30.8, Labor 15.8, Shinui 12.5, Shas 9.2, National Union 5.9, Meretz 5, United Torah Judaism 4.1, National Religious Party 4.1.

The most votes among the parties that apparently did not make it into the Knesset were received by Herut which got 34,000 votes, just over 1 percent. The threshold of 1.5 percent is expected to be over 46,000 votes. Behind Herut was Green Leaf with 31,000 votes, just under 1 percent. Ahavat Yisrael, the party of HaRav Yitzhak Kadourie, received just over 5,000 votes.

Sharon thus became the first Israeli prime minister to win re- election since the 1980s. Over the past 20 years, Yitzhak Shamir, Shimon Peres, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Ehud Barak were not reelected to another term. Prime Minister Rabin was murdered in office. Results are expected to be officially announced on Thursday and published next Tuesday. The Knesset is scheduled to convene first on February 17, but the government may be formed several weeks later.

Labor Party leader Amram Mitzna called Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to congratulate him on his election victory within a few minutes of the polls' closing. The two also decided they would meet, officials said. Mitzna and other Labor officials reiterated after the elections that they would not join a government led by Sharon.

Sharon said over and over that he wants another unity government similar to that which Labor broke up in late October. He has threatened to call new elections if he cannot form such a government.

Meretz leader Yossi Sarid has resigned his leadership of the party. Despite the addition of Yossi Beilin to the ranks of Meretz, the party suffered a resounding fall. Meretz MK Zehava Gal-On said the results "constitute a collapse of the peace camp" in Israel.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon reacted to the election results with "guarded happiness," an aide said. "We can take joy in victory but there is no room for celebration," Sharon said in a later statement. Once terrorism is defeated, "then together we can celebrate the victory of Israel," Sharon said, adding that "the people want unity."

Nearly 8,000 polling stations opened at 7 A.M. on Tuesday, with 4,720,074 Israelis eligible to vote in the election. All Israeli citizens with valid Israeli identity cards were eligible to vote, regardless of their permanent residence.

In his statement to his own Labor party, leader Amram Mitzna said, "There's no shame to being in the opposition and I promise you our time there will be brief. Sharon wants the Labor party to be his fig leaf. We will not join him, but aim to replace him. I don't intend to give up our path for ministerial seats." Shimon Peres also said that there is no basis for a unity government.

Israel imposed a total closure Sunday on the West Bank and Gaza Strip until after the elections, following warnings that Palestinian terrorists planned attacks on Election Day. Over the weekend, Israeli troops carried out two large-scale operations in the Gaza Strip in response to Palestinian rocket attacks on Israeli communities within Gaza and inside Israel. At least 12 Palestinians were killed and dozens wounded during a clash with Israeli soldiers in Gaza City on Sunday. In what was described as the deepest military incursion into Gaza City in two years, Israeli troops targeted Palestinian weapons factories. Boruch Hashem there were no serious incidents on the day of the elections. There is no doubt that the Palestinians would have preferred other election results.

Leor Horev, an aide to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said the PM expressed apprehension about his success in beginning to build a coalition government based on the election results.

Sharon has said that he will not take the National Union into the government. That leaves him with the following assumed partners: Shas (11), United Torah Judaism (5), the National Religious Party (5) and Yisrael B'Aliya 2, for a total of 60 seats. Although he could count on the National Union and Shinui to support him in most of the major votes, the day-to- day running of the government would be very difficult as the government would probably be defeated on many minor votes. Also passing the annual budget would be extremely difficult.

Am Echad (4) might join but that would still leave Sharon at the mercy of most of his coalition partners -- a very uncomfortable position and one that Sharon has said that he will not accept.

Though Shinui has insisted all along that it will not sit in a government with religious parties, it appeared to soften its stand after the elections saying that it might sit in an "emergency" government with religious parties. None of the religious parties has said that it will not sit with Shinui though clearly they would impose conditions upon it such as toning down the rhetoric. Shinui wants to form a "secular" government composed of Likud, Shinui and Labor, believing that it could thereby implement its program of removing the Jewish identity from the State of Israel.

Official results will not be in until late Thursday, and it will be some time next week until Sharon is officially given the task of forming the government. Sharon is a consummate back room politician, and he may be able to find some combination, though the situation does not seem encouraging.

Leftist pundits do not tire of saying that the country backs the policies of the Left, including a Palestinian State and dismantling settlements, but they cannot understand why, if so, they do not vote for them. They conclude that the Israeli people want the Right to carry out the policies of the Left.

The truth is that the pundits do not seem to be able to differentiate dream from reality. Though no one doubts that Mitzna is sincere in wishing to withdraw unilaterally from Gaza, most Israelis see that he could never do so, nor could he dismantle settlements.

No one in what is called the Left has offered a realistic alternative to Sharon. The Left only talks to itself. Even after more than two years of violence, there is not one credible Palestinian voice that has called for a cessation of the violence. The assessment of the current government is that the presence of Arafat, his obvious personal commitment to violence and his control of the Palestinian institutions, make it practically impossible for any Palestinian to suggest an alternative. Therefore they insist that he must go.

Shinui seems to have drawn voters from Labor and Meretz. It does not stand for anything besides opposition to chareidim. Rabbi Uri Lapoliansky told Yated that he expected that it would not last very long. If there is another election soon, it will probably lost seats as many of its voters would return to one of the major parties. Every few years a new party forms that draws the disaffected protest vote, but it soon dissolves after it becomes clear that it has no magic solution.

Ironically, Labor's situation seems a mirror of what Likud underwent after losing big to Ehud Barak in 1999. Then the pundits said that the reason for the loss was that the Likud failed to come to grips with the new reality created by the Oslo Agreements. Now it appears that the Likud won because those agreements collapsed and Labor has not come to terms with things as they now are.

The violence continues. On the Sunday before the elections, the IDF Spokesperson said there were 5,055 injured, 724 killed and 16,209 violent Palestinian attacks from 29 September 2000 through 25 January 2003. This does not include most of the incidents of rock throwing and Molotov cocktails.


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