Most Important 2009 Elections

5 / 6
5 / 6

No. 1 Israel

Given its tumultuous history, it may be a cliché to dub an Israeli election “momentous.” But if any qualifies, surely the returns from Tuesday’s elections must. In the balance hang the future of a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians and the possibility of military action against Iran. Yet if the world is watching for signs of Israel’s (and, by extension, the Mideast’s) direction, Israelis themselves are reportedly apathetic. As Isabel Kershner noted in the New York Times, “the leaders of the major parties vying for the job of prime minister have mostly avoided discussing the critical policy issues facing Israel, like how to deal with the West Bank, Hamas-ruled Gaza, Syria or the threat of a nuclear Iran. Instead, their campaigns have focused on the trustworthiness of their rivals, or lack thereof.” Whatever their level of interest, early indications point to a rightward swing in the electorate. Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party are projected to secure 26 of the Knesset’s 120 seats, followed by Tzipi Livni’s Kadima party with 23 seats. Among the surprises is the performance of Israel Beiteinu ("Our Home"), an ultra-nationalist party, which may win 18 seats and, by extension, help Netanyahu forge a right-wing coalition. Ehud Barak’s Labor party is currently expected to snag 15 seats. Yet there is also a sizeable pool of undecided voters, who could tip the balance. Already groaning under the weight of the Gaza war, some wonder if Netanyahu’s return shovels dirt over any potential for peace. Others suggest that Netanyahu is the only politician willing to face down Iran. Whatever the outcome, the vote will almost certainly impact U.S. policy towards Iran. In the summer, prime minister Ehud Olmert petitioned the Bush administration to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities. As the centrifuges continue to whirl, the next prime minister may very well need to make a fateful call: to launch a military attack against the Islamic Republic, or trust in deterrence. With military forces in two countries neighboring Iran, the U.S. will be deeply impacted by whichever decision Israel’s elected leadership makes.

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