Photo finish

Israel goes to the polls — and leaves two leaders in a deadlock over control of the country

The results of last night’s general elections shattered the expectation of a sweeping return to power for Binyamin Netanyahu, leaving instead a deadlock between Likud and Kadima for control of the prime ministership and therefore the direction of the next government.

Negotiations over the formation of a governing coalition will be far more complicated than first expected — because the picture that the Israeli electorate painted of its political will is more abstract than stark and clearly defined. Yet there are discernable patterns in that picture, and they demand reflection.

One of the most prominent lessons of these elections is that voters have cast their ballots based not on their perception of the parties as a whole, but on their views of the individuals leading them. What we can say about the strong showings of Kadima, Likud and Israel Beiteinu is that Israelis embraced Tzipi Livni, Binyamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman, respectively, and that by sending Labor tumbling they have rejected Ehud Barak. This is interesting not only because of what it says about those individuals, but because of what it says about changes in the Israeli political system.

Another necessary conclusion is that this electorate is now firmly entrenched in the right wing. Livni is the face of the center-right, Netanyahu is the face of the right, and Lieberman is the face of the far-right. Together, they garnered 73 seats (pending the final tally) out of 120 in the Knesset. The combined 17 seats of Labor and Meretz, as left-wing and far-left parties, pale in comparison.

Analyzing the results of this election will mean analyzing:

* the campaigns that the parties ran

* the collapse of the left

* the transformation of the right

* what the new government can achieve

I’ll do that shortly.

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