As Israeli's Leading Parties Reduce Gap, Tzipi Livni Cedes Rotation To Lift Zionist Union Election Chances
Monday night, in the final hours before Israel’s fiercely contested general election Tuesday, March 17, the four-seat margin the polls had awarded Yitzhak Herzog’s opposition left-of-center Zionist Union against Binyamin Netanyahu’s right-of-center Likud was shrinking fast... in a race that might well turn out to be too close to call.
Barring surprise upsets – to which Israeli elections are often prone - the figures had enhanced the Likud leader’s chances of forming the next government compared with Herzog.
The second hurdle in Herzog’s path to the prime minister’s office was the falling fortunes of the far-left Meretz, headed by Zahava Galon, which faces the danger of not making it past the new threshold limit. This would leave the Zionist Union bereft of its safest partner.
It was this potential setback which brought the Zionist Union’s co-leader Tzipi Livni rushing into the breach. The deal for the merger of her party with the Zionist Union entailed a promise to rotate the premiership between Herzog and herself – two years each – if the party was able to form a government.
In the past week, Zionist Union strategists estimated that this deal would cost the party valuable votes. Ceding her turn at the premiership on behald of the party of which she is co-leader, would be worth another two or three Knesset seats - enough for a game-changer.
Livni’s eve-of-election gesture made it easier for Herzog either to form a cabinet or more likely join Netanyahu in a unity government with Likud, an option that would depend on the way the electorate votes Tuesday.
The big, breaking news here tonight is that the Herzog-Livni ticket is imploding at the 11th hour — Tzipi Livni is actually stepping off the ticket in a completely stunning political move.
The two have been running for the last several months as a team in a “rotation agreement.” That is, “buy one, get one free.” If you vote for their combined faction (two political parties running together) and they win the most seats in the Knesset (parliament) then Herzog had promised to serve as Prime Minister for two years, and Livni for the second two years. But Livni is very unpopular. Within their parties, the rotation agreement was very unpopular. There was growing pressure to remove her from the ticket, but some strategists on the left feared doing so this late in the game would reflect badly on Herzog and raise questions about his judgment and ability to lead. Nevertheless, at the 11th hour, Livni announced that she will no longer be part of the rotation agreement. She says she’s dropping off voluntarily, yet some say Herzog pushed her off. This is a late-breaking story. The details are not yet clear. Neither are the implications. Will Herzog be helped or hurt by this move? A highly dramatic election has just gotten far more dramatic.
Herzog says, “I trust the Obama Administration to get a good deal” on the Iran nuclear issue. In a must-read interview in , the left-wing Israeli opposition leader indicates that he trusts the direction that President Obama is going in with regards to Iran. This is a huge dividing line for Israelis who increasingly distrust the American administration and fear Iran is being given a green light to build not just one nuclear weapon but a whole arsenal.
Herzog proudly says he will divide Jerusalem and roll Israel back to the pre-1967 lines (or close) to create a sovereign Palestinian state. In another must-read interview, Herzog is not shy about saying he believes Israel should give up part of its own capital to the PLO. This is another huge dividing line for Israelis.
UPDATE: On Monday, Netanyahu said he would not allow a sovereign Palestinian state to be established if he is re-elected. This is a change in his position. He previously stated that he would support a demilitarized Palestinian state in its leadership fully acknowledged Israel as a Jewish state. Over the past several years, however, he has become convinced the current Palestinian leadership is not ready, willing or able to make such a commitment. “I think that anyone who moves to establish a Palestinian state and evacuate territory gives territory away to radical Islamist attacks against Israel,” Netanyahu said. “The left has buried its head in the sand time and after time and ignores this, but we are realistic and understand.”