RealClearWorld will be providing live coverage tonight and all day tomorrow of Tuesday's Knesset elections in Israel.
Voting has already begun for Israeli military personnel dispatched on the front lines, and most polling stations will be opening Tuesday morning at 7:00 a.m. IST. The Jerusalem Post has a handy voter guide with basic polling information and election facts for all of you still undecided and uncertain Israeli voters.
Stay with us throughout today and tomorrow for all of the latest news on the day.
UPDATE (1:17 p.m. IST)
Election day has arrived in Israel. Most polls have now been open across the country for about six hours. There were reports of 'rioting' at one of the polling stations in the Arab city of Umm al-Fahm. The incident sounds rather minor, but it had been expected. Due to Israel's proportional structure, governmental tasks and positions get divvied out in reflection to a party's standing in the governing coalition - this includes election monitoring.
Problems arose when Arieh Eldad - sent to replace right-wing leader Baruch Marzel, who had once recommended the targeted killing of a left-wing Israeli leader - entered the city on behalf of the Central Election Committee to monitor polls.
Shmuel Rosner is running a live blog on the election. I couldn't agree with him more, incidentally, on the hype surrounding Lieberman as "kingmaker." Rosner also has a good read up at Commentary's blog on strategic voting.
It was apparently cold and rainy this morning, which, as we know here in the states, can affect voter turnout.
Also, check out Lionel Laurent's piece from yesterday on the absence of economic discussion in this campaign.
- Kevin Sullivan
UPDATE (2:05 p.m. IST)
Does anyone else see a degree of irony in Hamas waiting on election results to determine whether or not a Gaza truce will be feasible?
Isn't Israel called the unreasonable actor when they pick and choose their preferred Palestinian leadership in such fashion?
UPDATE (2:20 p.m. IST)
So much for voter apathy?
UPDATE (3:11 p.m. IST)
I must confess, I can't really make sense of this rather banal and unimaginative meme that appears to be emerging over Israel's alleged rightward "drift." We see it here, and we see it from prolific Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald.
In short, the argument goes as follows: The recent emergence of Avigdor Lieberman, and the reemergence of former prime minister Bibi Netanyahu, coupled with reports of voter apathy throughout the country, are indicators of one or two things in Israel, if not both. Either the country is increasingly jingoistic and nativist, or it is simply bored with its politics. Or we're witnessing both cases.
I'm sure there's some truth to the latter, but I've yet to see any substantive argument for why this might be the case. In the Time post linked above, Scott MacLeod argues that Israel needs more leaders of "vision" to reinvigorate the peace process. But he goes on to cite Golda Meir, who, among other things, once doubted the very etymological existence of the Palestinians.
How would Meir, were we to speculate, handle rocket attacks from Gaza today? Is it a stretch to assume she'd have done no differently than Olmert, Livni or Netanyahu?
With all due respect to MacLeod, I think this is empty rhetoric. And what precisely does "voting for peace" entail? We heard the same doom and gloom in 2001, when the hawkish Ariel Sharon assumed the prime minister's office. Yet Sharon made more progress towards disengagement in Gaza than many of his predecessors ever did. Ehud Olmert - the now repentant dove - brought the nation two wars in as many years.
There's no telling how events will unfold in respect to elected officials, and we mustn't run around screaming that the sky is falling every time a right-wing politician makes tough campaign pledges in Israel.
UPDATE (4:10 p.m. IST)
Apropos of what Kevin said above, here is Steve Clemons begging for Bibi:
In fact, the more irresponsible both sides are about their situation, the more achievable a "new equilibrium arrangement" may be -- because the US and other regional stakeholders simply can't afford for the recklessness, immaturity, and sheer stupidity of leadership on all sides of the conflict to continue.
Given that. Give us Netanyahu. Please.
His re-ascension will help Americans realize that the false choice approach the Bush administration has been taking in Israel-Palestine affairs was flawed -- and that Obama's team must change the game or face a serious rebuke from Middle East watchers in the US and around the world.
Wasn't this the same argument that the Bush administration used to justify elections among the Palestinians? That elections would "clarify" things?
- Greg Scoblete
UPDATE (4:33 p.m. IST)
Whoever becomes prime minister, they have a long to-do list.
UPDATE (4:45 p.m. IST)
Media pundits love to attack polling without understanding the science and the attendant difficulties associated with it. To be sure, most election polls conducted in western democracies have proved to be remarkably accurate. The election in Israel will provide a test once more.
Most of the final polls gave Likud a 2- to 3-seat advantage over Kadima, which should allow Benjamin Netanyahu to become the next prime minister and form the new government. Further reading of the polls, as well as a few statements Bibi has made, the likelihood of a Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu-Labor coalition is fairly strong.
Even with a narrow victory, Likud is expected to win 25-27 seats. Combine that with Yisrael Beiteinu's expected pickup of about 18 seats, it still leaves them 15 seats or so short of a 61-seat majority in the Knesset. Bringing in Ehud Barak's Labor to the fold should fill that gap, and possibly eliminate the need to partner with too many other smaller political parties, particularly the ones with acute religious agendas.
More important, however, this coalition isolates Livni and Kadima, increasingly viewed as the common enemy by both Likud and Labor, themselves formerly fierce foes.
- Samuel Chi
UPDATE (4:50 p.m. IST)
AP has some video:
UPDATE (6:34 p.m. IST)
The BBC rounds up Arab media reaction to the elections. Nothing terribly surprising.
UPDATE (8:15 p.m. IST)
With all polls scheduled to close within two hours, the election outcome is very much in the air. What's known is that despite the bad weather, turnout has been better than expected, with 60% of the voters already cast their ballots.
Israeli election regulations prohibit exit poll data from being released until all polls are closed at 10 p.m. IST (3 p.m. EST).
The possibility exists that the party winning the most seats might not get to form the government - particularly if that party is Kadima. The president of Israel, Shimon Peres, decides who will have the best chance of putting together a coalition and that person will have 42 days to form a government.
By convention, the president usually chooses the party winning the most seats, but he's not bound by it. Particularly intriguing in this instance is that Peres was defeated by Netanyahu in a contentious election in 1996 for prime minister - but he may have no choice but to appoint Bibi to form the government as pre-election surveys suggest that he has more support from the MKs.
UPDATE (8:57 p.m. IST)
While we anxiously wait for polls to close in Israel, my colleague Greg and I were making our own predictions and wondered if this race perhaps has a little Dewey-Truman '48 in it.
You have the tightening race towards the end, the, uh, eccentric (?) third-party candidate, and even the lack of truly up-to-date polling (due to Israeli election law, polling was prohibited past Friday).
Now we just need to get a steam-powered locomotive for Tzipi ...
UPDATE (9:50 p.m. IST)
Less than 10 minutes until polls close cross Israel. It looks as if Livni has pulled off a dramatic comeback. The question is: Will she have enough support in the Knesset to make her case to be the next prime minister?
Exit polling data will be available shortly.
UPDATE (10:02 p.m. IST)
Israel's Channel 1 exit poll puts Kadima on 30 seats, Likud on 28 seats, Yisrael Beiteinu on 14 seats and Labor on 13 seats.
Channel 2 exit poll says 29 seats for Kadima, 27 for Likud, 15 for Yisrael Beiteinu, 13 for Labor and 10 for Shas.
UPDATE (10:07 p.m. IST)
It appears that Tzipi Livni's Kadima Party has surged ahead to claim the most seats in the election. However, if the exit polls are to be believed, the right-wing bloc has enough seats to form the government, putting Benjamin Netanyahu on course to be the next prime minister.
A couple of other scenarios still exist: Livni may invite Bibi and possibly Labor to form a unity government, with Netanyahu second in command and Barak staying on as defense minister. Or, she may try to persuade Yisrael Beiteinu to join her, along with other left-wing parties, including Meretz.
Avigdor Lieberman is now clearly the king (or queen) maker. Whoever can get his ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu into the coalition should become the next Israeli PM.
UPDATE (10:31 p.m. IST)
Per Sam's previous update, another thing to keep in mind is that the Israeli head of state, in this instance President Shimon Peres, can choose the Knesset member he deems best suited to build a coalition in the Knesset. He could choose Livni, and then give her time to pick off Lieberman, Shas and some of the other right-wing parties dependent on patronage and entitlements.
The right bloc certainly made gains overall today at the polls, but the government building process is an entirely different, backroom sort of process.
UPDATE (10:51 p.m. IST)
The exit poll results from all three Israeli television channels, 1, 2 and 10:
Based on the exit polling numbers, it appears that the right bloc won about 64-65 seats whereas the left bloc won about 55-56 seats. Of course, this is when the deal-making starts as ideology gives way to power politics.
One other factor in play: Apparently ballots from Israel's frontline soldiers have not been part of the exit-poll data. How they voted may at the end tip the final count somewhat.