How Hamas is altering Israeli politics
The conflict in the Gaza Strip is already having an impact on the political landscape in Israel ahead of parliamentary polls in February.
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A successful endgame to the current fighting could help Kadima and Barak's Labor Party make up for their failures on Gaza. A redux of the Lebanon war would be disastrous for their chances in next month's election.Skip to next paragraph
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Two polls this week showed the center-left bloc of parties – which are headed by Livni and Barak – pulling into a tie or gaining a slight majority in the upcoming parliament. Previously, a coalition of right-wing and religious parties were forecast to hold the advantage.
As the fighting continued, Israel's cabinet convened amid international pressure for a truce. The Israel-Hamas conflict seemed to have reached a crossroads with calls for both international diplomacy and a ground assault. The decision as of Wednesday was to continue the air campaign.
"We didn't enter an operation in Gaza only to end it with the continuation of rocket fire in the beginning," said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at the cabinet meeting. "Israel restrained itself for years and gave a chance for calm."
Already, the intersection of war and the election is highlighting a number of incongruences of a political system in flux.
First, the military operation is being overseen by a lame duck premier. Mr. Olmert was forced to resign last year over corruption allegations and remains deeply unpopular for his handling of the inconclusive Lebanon war. So far, Olmert has been an electoral burden to Kadima and Livni, much the same way that President Bush was a drag on the bid by Sen. John McCain's (R) of Arizona for the presidency.
While Livni is running as the leader of the center-left political bloc, the military offensive has relegated her playing only a supporting role. Olmert is calling the shots and Barak is overseeing the widely respected military; Livni is charged with liaising with international diplomats that Israelis largely turn up their noses at.
"Tzipi Livni is a third wheel in this troika," says Gideon Doron, a professor of political science at Tel Aviv University. "The foreign minister should provide the international conditions that provide the time for the operation [to succeed]. It's not clear if she can do that."
And yet, the momentum from a positive end to the fighting would also help Livni.
Barak, meanwhile, remains the dark horse candidate for prime minister even though he has received the biggest boost from the operation. His Labor Party has been forecast to receive 15 to 16 seats in the next parliament, up from 11 or 10.
Front-runner Netanyahu, one of the chief critics of the government's policy toward Hamas, has been forced to abandon his assault on Livni's leadership credentials. Instead, he has dutifully taken on the challenge of explaining to the international community the policy of a government he would like to replace.
Eventually, however, Netanyahu and Likud are expected to end their political cease-fire.
Likud is now running neck-and-neck with Livni's Kadima, forfeiting a lead of about six to eight seats from earlier in December. Political observers have cited internal Likud turmoil as the primary reason for the drop.