Update – 10 February 2009

Dear All,

As morning breaks in Israel, the people will be heading to the polling booths to decide who will be their next Prime Minister. The polls are putting Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu and Kadima leader Tzipi Livni neck-and-neck, with Yisrael Beiteinu led by Aivgdor Lieberman taking third place ahead of the Labor party, led by current Defence Minister Ehud Barak. Labor is expected to only receive the fourth highest amount of votes, a point which demonstrates how much the spectrum of Israeli politics has changed over the decades.

The Jerusalem Post is reporting ‘Netanyahu, Livni both confident of victory in elections’ while Haaretz reports ‘Countdown to ballot in tight Likud-Kadima race’. 

Both our local broadsheets are focusing on the elections. Jason Koutsoukis from the Age reports ‘Netanyahu sets collision course with the US’. He asserts that these elections “will decide the fate of the proposed ‘two-state’ solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict”, which seems to be a rather simplistic remark considering the fact that successive Israeli governments, both on the left and right, have been negotiating for a two-state solution for over the past one and a half decades. John Lyons of the Australian appears to show a little more insight into the complexities of Israeli elections in ‘Netanyahu in poll eve blitz’. He also reports on a potential deal with Hamas that could bring about an 18-month ceasefire and the release of abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who has spent 961 days in captivity. Lyons needs to be picked up one point when he asserts “Sergeant Shalit’s capture was a trigger for Israel’s war against Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006”. Shalit’s capture, by groups connected to Hamas, sparked an operation in Gaza which occurred a few weeks before Katyusha rocket attacks and the abduction of two Israeli soldiers in the North sparked a war in Lebanon.

Still on the elections, the Palestinian Authority has come out saying that the breaches by Hamas in the shaky ceasefire with Israel are an attempt to sway the Israeli elections. Traditionally, conflict with the Palestinians has shifted Israelis towards the right, and Fatah is claiming that this is exactly what Hamas wants. Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki declares that these rocket attacks “might really push Israeli public opinion and the voters to vote for an anti-peace government” (see more). Malki believes that if the Israelis were to vote in a party that is willing to negotiate, then the fear by Hamas is that the Israelis would reach an agreement with the rival Fatah (see more).

As I mentioned earlier, there has been speculation that a ceasefire brokered by Egypt could be reached between Hamas and Israel in the coming days. The deal would include a long-term ceasefire, a prisoner exchange and the opening of Gaza’s border crossings (see more). Israelis are seeing this as a window of opportunity for the release of Gilad Shalit, which comes with a heavy price tag of over a thousand Palestinian prisoners. Marwan Barghouti, convicted and jailed for life for the murder of scores of Israelis (and a Greek monk), is believed to be on the list (see more). It seems that while Barghouti has been used as a bargaining chip for many years by Fatah and surprisingly by Hamas too, he is apparently not the sticking point, but rather four other terrorists who are linked to a string of terrorist attacks around Israel (see more).

I have been following the story of UN aid being stolen by Hamas in my last few updates. Reports over the past few weeks have constantly made the accusation ‘Hamas stealing medicine and food sent by international donors’. Over the weekend, news came through that the United Nations had decided to halt aid to Gaza because Hamas had seized 10 trucks filled with rice and flour. U.N Secretary General Ban Ki-moon declared that the suspension would remain “until the aid is returned and the agency is given credible assurances from the Hamas government in Gaza that there will be no repeat of these thefts” (see more). Then, in a move to prove they were still a balanced organisation, the United Nations declared they would be unable to distribute the aid anyway because Israel had stopped UNRWA from bringing in plastic bags intended for distributing the aid! According the UNRWA spokesman Christopher Gunness, this lack of plastic bags, alongside the seizure by Hamas of the aid, has brought upon a “double whammy” for the organisation (see more). Following his several gaffes which caused his organisation to backtrack on more than one occasion during the Gaza War, many will regard Gunness’ comments as rather rubbery.

The UN is now claiming that Hamas has returned the aid, paving the way for distributions to resume. Hamas, as usual, continues to deny it even confiscated any supplies from UN premises to begin with (see more).

The Zionist Council of Victoria, as a part of its dedication to keeping you up to date with all of the latest elections news, will be running a live election blog with updates as they come through. Please click here after 4pm ESDT for all the latest news. In the meantime, take this quiz to see which political party you are most aligned with!

Best wishes,

Emily Chrapot
Research Officer
Zionist Council of Victoria
9272 5507