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2009 Election

On 18 September 2008 Israel's Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, won a narrow victory in the ruling centrist Kadima party's primary election, putting her on track to become Israel's first female Prime Minister in more than three decades. A day after she was elected leader of Israel's ruling Kadima party, Livni reminded Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that he had promised to step down. "We have a country to run," Livni told party members, "and we don't have a lot of time to fool around."

Olmert had promised to resign over a corruption scandal as soon as Kadima chose a new leader. But unless he took a leave of absence, Israeli law required him to stay on as caretaker prime minister until Livni forms a new government. Livni also faced unrest in her Kadima party because she defeated hawkish former army chief Shaul Mofaz by just one percentage point. Both had pledged to be tough on security issues, saying they will not tolerate a nuclear Iran or militants in the Palestinian territories.

Following the attorney general opening a series of corruption investigations, Olmert resigned on 21 September 2008. In October 2008, President Peres asked deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Tzippi Livni to form a new government. When Livni was unable to secure a governing majority, President Peres called for new elections to occur in February 2009. Even though Kadima, led by Tzippi Livni won more seats than any other single party, right-of-center parties, both religious and secular, had the largest overall gains in the new Knesset. Left-wing parties - Labor and Meretz - which had lost votes to Kadima, declined to support Livni because they were concerned she would form a coalition with Avigdor Liberman's Yisrael Beiteinu. A bloc of several religious and right-wing parties made it much easier for Netanyahu to form a coalition. President Peres asked Likud-leader Netanyahu to form a government. Netanyahu was sworn in as Prime Minister for the second time on 31 March 2009.

If the political system had worked properly, Netanyahu would be leading a moderate right-wing party, while Tzipi Livni would be heading a moderate left-wing party and Ehud Barak a centrist party. After a brief election campaign, the leaders would have brought all three parties into a single sane Zionist government. But Netanyahu was trapped in the hands of the Likud's extremists, Livni was trapped by Kadima's Likudniks, and Barak was trapped in a party that loved him just as much as he loved it. All three were unable to implement their true political worldviews. None of them could offer a clear way or decisive solutions. An irrelevant Likud, a Labor that had lost its way, and a crumbling Kadima caused the national leadership to remain stagnant.

Netanyahu returned to power in the 2009 election after serving a three-year term as prime minister in the late 1990s. He presided over a relatively stable coalition in a country whose fractious parliaments rarely complete their four-year terms. The ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu (Israel Our Home) party, led by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, was the second largest party in the outgoing government, holding 15 seats. The Ultra-Orthodox Shas (Sfarad's Guards of the Torah) religious party, founded by Sephardi Jews of Middle Eastern origin, held 11 seats in the outgoing Likud-led government. Atzmaut (Independence), the center-left party founded by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, split from Labor in 2011 and joined Netanyahu's government as a separate faction with 5 seats. Other coalition members include United Torah Judaism with five seats and Habayit Hayehudi [New National Religious Party] with three seats.

Kadima was the largest party in the outgoing Knesset, with 28 seats, but polls suggest the Kadima would fare poorly in the next election - falling from 28 seats to only four - due to Mofaz's reputation for changing positions. The Labor Party, led by former journalist Shelly Yachimovich, held only 8 seats in the outgoing Knesset, but polls suggest it will rebound to become the second largest faction, and was expected to take around 19 seats. Yesh Atid (There is a Future) a new centrist, secular party established by popular TV personality Yair Lapid, was expected to win at least several seats in the Knesset.

After refusing offers from Netanyahu to form a national unity coalition, Livni became opposition leader, but her refusal to compromise with Netanyahu left her unpopular in Kadima. Shaul Mofaz defeated Tzipi Livni in the party primary on 27 March 2012 by a wide margin. In a low turnout of 40 percent of Kadima's 95,000 members, Mofaz trounced Livni, taking 61.7 percent of votes. After Mofaz defeated Livni in the party primary, the latter quit politics.

Kadima replaced Tzipi Livni as leader with ex-defence minister Shaul Mofaz, but he failed to inspire the public. The political talents of Mofaz were shadowed by his military ability when he was IDF Chief of Staff. Israeli opposition leader Shaul Mofaz of the Kadima Party has accused Netanyahu of leading Israel toward an irresponsible, unilateral war with Iran. But in a Jerusalem Post interview in April 2012, Iranian-born Mofaz had said that “allowing Iran to obtain even a civilian nuclear capability would change the balance of power in the Middle East,” adding that “Israel cannot accept this.” He also said that if Israel sees Iran “getting closer to a military nuclear capability” and the United States failing to stop such progress, he will be “the first to support Israel taking action” against Iranian nuclear sites.

Netanyahu on May 05, 2012 called for the dissolution of his coalition government more than a year before scheduled elections and told cheering members of his Likud party that he would like elections to be held in September 2012. Netanyahu's political coalition had split over a controversial law that exempted ultra-Orthodox Jews and Arab Israelis from military or civilian service. Nationalist-secular parties in the ruling coalition said all Israelis should serve. Highly religious parties rejected this.

Two days later Netanyahu struck a surprise deal with the opposition Kadima party to form a unity government, effectively canceling an early election. Former Israeli opposition leader Shaul Mofaz’s surprise entry into Israel’s ruling coalition in May 2012 prompted speculation in Israel that Netanyahu might be positioning his country for a military strike against Iran, which Israel accuses of seeking to build nuclear weapons. The leader of Israel’s centrist Kadima party was sworn in as Israeli vice premier after agreeing to join Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s nationalist coalition in a unity government. Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, approved the unity deal between Mofaz’s Kadima and Netanyahu’s Likud party on Wednesday by a vote of 71 to 23.

But the prime minister did not live up to his promises for a “universal draft”. Mofaz realized he could not be influential in such government, and he refused to join the coalition just ten weeks later. Party chairman Shaul Mofaz announced 17 July 2012 that the party faction had voted 24-3 to pull out of the coalition because of what he said was Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s failure to live up a supposed agreement on changes in the military service law.

On July 10, 2012 an Israeli court acquitted former prime minister Ehud Olmert of two major corruption charges, while convicting him of a lesser offense. The court said Olmert was guilty of breach of trust in connection with aiding a friend while serving as Israel's trade and industry minister. He was also facing allegations of illegally accepting funds from an American businessman and double-billing Jewish groups for trips abroad. Olmert denied any wrongdoing, but resigned as prime minister after being indicted in 2008. He still faced trial in connection with a bribery scandal during his time as Jerusalem's mayor.

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Page last modified: 08-04-2015 20:22:55 ZULU