Israeli duel

The Baltimore Sun

Israeli voters' preference for hard-liners has left foreign minister and moderate Tzipi Livni in the unenviable position of having won but lost at the same time. With most votes counted, Ms. Livni, the leader of the center-right Kadima party, posted a one-vote win over the rival Likud leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, in parliamentary elections Tuesday. And yet a strong finish by a third party of ultra-nationalists has seriously undermined her chances at forming a government. This embrace of the political right will complicate the United States' efforts to restart meaningful peace talks with the Palestinians. Israelis have demonstrated their desire for security first.

When ballots from Israel's defense forces are counted, Ms. Livni's slight lead may well evaporate. Then Mr. Netanyahu, the former prime minister with an American's command of English, should have no trouble forming a government of like-minded hard-liners, including supporters of Avigdor Lieberman, whose proposal to have Israeli Arab citizens take an oath of loyalty caused a sensation among Israel's left.

Trouble is Ms. Livni's views on peace prospects, including the two-state solution concept, are more in sync with those of President Barack Obama. A campaign slogan of hers encouraged voters to "Be-livni," an Israeli version of Mr. Obama's "Yes We Can." As a member of the present government, she has participated in talks with Palestinian leaders and has heard their concerns.

The two-state solution favored by Ms. Livni and Mr. Obama would require Israel to give up some Jewish settlements on the West Bank to establish an independent Palestinian state. Mr. Netanyahu, as prime minister a decade ago and Likud's leader today, has strongly supported the settlement communities. As a potential coalition partner, Mr. Lieberman is an intriguing figure because he has indicated a willingness to give up land now held by Israel for a Palestinian state and reduce the hold over civil society that ultra-religious groups now wield.

The next step, however, is for Israeli President Shimon Peres to ask one of the two leading candidates to form a coalition government of more than 60 parliament seats. The drive now is to lock up those votes, and Mr. Netanyahu has the advantage.

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