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Robert H Halfon, Political Director of Conservative Friends of Israel, reflects on yesterday’s elections in Israel.

Golda Meir once said that pessimism is a luxury that no Jew can allow himself. After yesterday’s indecisive election result it is something that every Israeli should remember.

Despite all the polls indicating that the new centrist grouping ‘Kadima’ was likely to get anything between 35-45 seats, the Israeli electorate confounded the pollsters by voting for a host of anti-establishment parties.

From nowhere a new Pensioners’ Party emerged and took 7 seats (in a Parliament of just 120 seats in total this is a huge amount. Similarly the right wing Israel Our Homeland Party took 12 seats.

By contrast the main establishment parties all suffered. Whilst voter turnout slumped to a historic low of just 62%, Likud, led by the charismatic Bibi Netanyahu, was decimated winning just 11 seats, whilst Labor winning 20 making virtually no real progress since the last election.

What the election showed is that Israelis are catching that well known disease DDD (Democratic Deficit Disorder) whereby the young are less inclined to vote at all, the public are fed up with the activities of the major parties, and don’t believe that voting will change anything. When they do vote, they plump for outsider parties that have not been tainted with the rough and tumble of daily politics.

On the positive side, it should be noted that Kadima has come from nowhere as a new party, to gain 28 seats.  Had Ariel Sharon not fallen tragically ill, it would have won many more. Mr Sharon was regarded as a father figure by the Israeli public and the one political figure who could unite the nation. Ehud Olmert the current Kadima leader does not yet have the same respect, although he is highly regarded for his competence and governance.

As the largest party Mr Olmert’s job is now to build a governing coalition – probably with Labor.   He is expected to try and bring some of the Israeli right on board in order to ensure that he creates a consensus for future disengagement plans from parts of the West Bank. Whilst Mr Olmert knows that the Israeli left is likely to support his plans, it is more important that he brings elements of the right wing with him. At present many of the Settlers feel under threat and to some extent disenfranchised. For the importance of the cohesion of Israeli society, it is vital that they are represented in the highest echelons of Israeli Government.

Despite the difficulties yesterday there is no doubt that Mr Olmert will do all he can to unite the country and move towards further disengagement. Unity is vital to the future of Israel. The country continues to face terrorist attacks inspired by Hamas from the West Bank and Gaza and Hezbollah on the Lebanon border. Whilst Israeli voters were going to the polls yesterday, Palestinian terrorists fired Katushya rockets into Israel in the hope of disrupting the election.

Israel also has to contend with ever increasing belligerence from Iran which has all but declared a state of war promising to ‘wipe Israel off the face of the map’.

That is why Israel has no choice but to come together despite the vagaries and difficult challenges that the democratic process inevitably throws up. In that sense Israel is no different from any other Western democracy. What is different is that Israel has to continue to fight for existence on a daily basis.

For more on the results see here.

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