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Kadmia, but close

"Kadmia, but close" Continued...

Issue: "Who's laughing now?," April 8, 2006

The big loser was Likud, which moved in six months from No. 1 to No. 5. Many party members blame party head Benjamin Netanyahu for the fall, in part because after he challenged Ariel Sharon's leadership last autumn, Mr. Sharon formed Kadima-and soon after had an incapacitating stroke. Had Mr. Netanyahu been more patient, Kadima probably would not exist and Mr. Netanyahu would probably have become prime minister.

But that's all hindsight, and what doomed the favorite of many American evangelicals in this election were the cuts in entitlements that he pushed for as prime minister from 1996 to 1999, plus a general sense-pushed by reporters almost invariably hostile to him-that Mr. Netanyahu is untrustworthy. Sixty percent of Israelis in one poll even said the American-educated leader is "corrupt," although no one offered evidence of that.

Israeli pundits place the Nos. 3, 4, and 5 finishers on the right side of the spectrum. Their combined total of 36 seats could be supplemented by the National Union/National Religious Party's nine seats and the United Torah Judaism Party's six. But that makes only 51, not enough to stop the 62-seat center/left bloc that could be augmented by seven seats won by a special interest group, the Pensioners Party. The American equivalent would be if the AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons) formed a party and won 25 congressional seats.

But Israel's system, with little separation of power, is more like Britain's than America's: Whoever controls a majority of the 120 legislative seats has executive authority as well. (The Knesset has 120 seats because the Great Assembly instituted by Ezra and Nehemiah nearly 2,500 years ago, following the Babylonian exile, had that many.)

The Israeli and British systems work out differently, though, because in Britain each district elects a member of parliament, but in Israel parties win seats based on their percentage of the national vote. Each party last week presented a prioritized list of its candidates; the 11th person on the Likud list gained a seat, while No. 12 went home and hoped to become a higher draft choice next time.

The multiple party options in the past have brought out high turnouts, but that fascination seems to be fading: Only 63 percent of Israel's 5 million eligible voters turned out last week, down from the previous low of 68 percent. And Mr. Olmert will have to pay a high political price to gain the coalition partners he needs. Labor will demand cabinet positions that most affect social welfare; Arab parties will demand a more pacifistic posture; and the ultra-Orthodox parties will demand more subsidies and preferences.

Whatever the eventual composition of the government, a society weary of dealing with terrorism will have to deal with escapism of various kinds. A generation of young Israelis, according to Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog, "watches soap operas on cable" and is "apathetic, simply apathetic." Some 300,000 Israelis act out their apathy by becoming drug users, according to Mr. Olmert.

So the drama continues in Israel, which is smaller than one of America's smallest states, New Hampshire. Only 11 miles separate Arab territory in the West Bank from Tel Aviv on the coast. Israel has little margin for escapism or error.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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