The headlines on March 29 were about Kadima and Labor winning 28 and 20 seats, respectively, in Israel's 120-member Knesset, but conservatives are watching three right-of-center parties that won a total of 36 seats.
Third place (13 seats) went to the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, even though former party leader Aryeh Deri went to prison for taking $155,000 in bribes while serving as interior minister.
Shas still did well because the party's real power is Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the Pat Robertson of Israel. Last year, he said about Ariel Sharon: "Let God strike him down. ... He is torturing the people of Israel. ... He will sleep and never wake up." Yosef said Hurricane Katrina "was God's retribution" for U.S. support for Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza strip.
Fourth place (12 seats) went to a new party, Yisrael Beitenu, "Israel Our Home." Party leader Avigdor Lieberman appealed particularly to the 750,000 Israelis who emigrated from the crumbling Soviet Union, and his television commercials were simple: Netanyahu, nyet ("no" in Russian); Olmert, nyet; Lieberman, da (yes). Lieberman's goal is "population exchange," handing the land of at least 150,000 Israeli Arabs to the Palestinian Authority, with Israel in turn annexing its large settlement blocks in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, thus adding 400,000 Jews.
Fifth place (11 seats) went to Likud, the ruling party only six months ago with 38 seats. Likud was in trouble once Ariel Sharon gave up on it and founded Kadima, but what doomed party head Benjamin Netanyahu, the favorite of many American evangelicals, were the cuts in entitlements that he pushed for as prime minister from 1996 to 1999. The resurgence in this election of socialist Labor, plus a strong showing by a new Pensioners Party, indicates that some Israelis will be pushing hard for income redistribution.
On election night, Kadima head Ehud Olmert claimed a mandate for what he hopes is a new path to peace. Instead of waiting for an unlikely negotiated settlement with Israel's enemies, and instead of maintaining control over the West Bank, he plans to hand over most of it to a Palestinian Authority probably run by Hamas. Israel will then seek safety behind an electronic fence and wall that is already mostly in place.
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