12 Feb 2009
From Matthew Kalman in Jerusalem
ISRAEL was politically gridlocked yesterday after its general election left the two prospective leaders both claiming victory
With only a few thousand soldiers’ and diplomats’ absentee ballots left to be counted, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s centrist Kadima Party had the most seats in the Knesset parliament.
But right-wing former premier Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud still had the best chance of forming a stable coalition.
Both Livni and Netanyahu claimed victory and began talks with possible coalition partners.
‘ The Obama administration is going to inherit the worst of both worlds,’ said former U. S. mediator Aaron David Miller. ‘ It has already inherited a dysfunctional Palestinian house, made worse by Gaza, and now what it is inheriting is a dysfunctional Israeli house.’
President Shimon Peres will begin consultations with party leaders next week then give either Livni or Netanyahu a month to form a government.
With all the civilian votes counted, it looks as though Kadima has won 28 seats, Likud 27 and the ultra rightwing Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel is Our Home) 15.
Labour, for decades Israel’s ruling party, collapsed to its worst ever result with just 13 seats in the 120-seat Knesset.
The absentee ballots are expected to strengthen the right-wing and religious parties and leave them with a total of 65 seats, compared to 55 for centre-left and Arab parties.
Livni called on Netanyahu to join a unity government under her leadership. She hurried to meet Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of Yisrael Beitenu who has emerged as the kingmaker. He told his supporters: ‘ I am pleased we hold the key. And this key also brings with it a responsibility.
‘And this decision will not be at all easy,’ he said, referring to deep divisions over religious policy with the ultra-orthodox Shas Party, who are also supporting Netanyahu. Meanwhile, Ehud Olmert remains prime minister. He is expected to push through an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire with Hamas and an exchange of 400 Hamas prisoners for kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.