ISRAELI ELECTION: Right wing wins, but Netanyahu doesn't

Wednesday, February 11, 2009 |  Ryan Jones

Israel's right-wing scored a decisive victory in Tuesday's general election, though the final results left a storm of confusion over who will be Israel's next prime minister.

With 99 percent of the vote counted Wednesday morning, Tzipi Livni's Kadima Party edged out Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party. In the next Knesset, Kadima will have 28 seats to Likud's 27.

However, as every Israeli morning show commentator pointed out, Livni will have a much harder time forging a majority coalition than Netanyahu because the right-wing bloc won at least 63 out of 120 Knesset seats.

On top of that, of the 55-57 seats the left-wing bloc secured, at least 8 belong to small Arabs parties that won't join a Kadima-led coalition any sooner than they would a Likud government.

Israeli President Shimon Peres is expected to have a difficult time determining whom he should task with forming the next government, as tapping Netanyahu over Livni would be seen by many as contravening public will.

Many commentators pointed out that Peres must take into consideration that Israel only had early elections at this time because Livni was unable to pull together a majority coalition last September when the decision was made to oust Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. And that with a far more left-heavy Knesset.

The big winner of the night was Avigdor Lieberman and his Israel Beiteinu Party, which, despite years of scorn and biased reporting from the media, became Israel's third largest Knesset faction with 15 seats.

That result will effectively make Lieberman Israel's king-maker in the next government, and while his policies are far more aligned with those of Netanyahu and the Likud, he was a member of the outgoing Kadima-led government under Olmert.

In the coming days Livni and Netanyahu will be working hard to woo Lieberman and the heads of other medium-sized parties like Shas and Labor in order to convince Peres that they are the best choice for prime minister.

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