Israel's centrist vote:
Result Creates Potential for New Political Dynamic

Thu, Mar. 30, 2006

The good news out of the election in Israel is that a political party that adamantly identified itself as centrist -- Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's Kadima Party -- won the most support. This is a remarkable and unprecedented accomplishment for a new party, founded only last November by former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

The results suggest that Israelis are equally disenchanted by the Pollyannas on the left and the doomsday voices on the Israeli right.

Sharon's vision

True, voters failed to create a stable, centrist majority -- something that has eluded Israel for most of its history. Kadima won only 28 out of 120 seats in the Knesset. But the movement toward the center creates the potential for greater political cohesiveness and vindicates Mr. Sharon's vision of giving Israelis a new choice on the ballot that could escape the limits and dogmas associated with the once-dominant Labor and Likud parties.

The voters, apparently, agreed. After the experiences of Oslo and the intifada, the electorate seemed to say, it was unlikely that either of the former leading parties could bring salvation. Mr. Olmert is likely to form a government coalition with the help of dovish and religious factions in the Knesset. Mr. Olmert has also said that only parties that agree to Kadima's Sharon-inspired plans for a withdrawal from the West Bank will be asked to join the coalition. In his victory speech, the Israeli leader made it clear that he preferred negotiations over unilateral action, but said he would not wait indefinitely for a Palestinian partner.

The Palestinians, meanwhile, are busy creating their own government. The contrast with political developments in Israel could not be greater. In voting for Hamas, Palestinian voters turned power over to extremists whose party explicitly rejects the legitimacy of the state of Israel. The leaders of Hamas, surprised at the outcome of the election they won, clearly are not ready to govern and, therefore, still cling to terrorist slogans and ideas.

Rhetoric not enough

Now that they are faced with the reality of having to feed the hungry and pick up the garbage, they must deliver. Hamas will discover soon enough that rhetoric won't do the job. Mr. Olmert and his party will give Hamas some time -- perhaps a year -- to decide whether it is ready to renounce violence and enter into negotiations before Israel starts unilateral withdrawal. The ball is now squarely in the Palestinians' court.