Israel looks set for unwilling coalition


Israel is facing the prospect of its first national unity government in 30 years.

Expectations of a grand coalition grew as the country went to the polls last night despite weeks of mud-slinging in which left and right-wing factions stressed their ideological differences. Analysts predicted the two sides would be forced into an alliance, despite opinion polls showing the centre-left Zionist Union consistently leading the right-wing Likud Party of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The forecasts confounded Netanyahu’s repeated insistence that he would not form a unity government with the Zionist Union, claiming unbridgeable differences with its joint leaders, Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni.

The Israeli leader tried further to sharpen the ideological divide while attempting to woo right-wing voters by declaring yesterday that a Palestinian state would not be created if he were re-elected. Visiting Har Homar settlement in occupied East Jerusalem, he also pledged to build thousands of new settler homes, contrasting his position with the Zionist Union, which has promised to restart peace talks with the Palestinians.

Experts dismissed the Prime Minister’s comments as campaign rhetoric and said a grand coalition was likely because neither side could form a stable government alone.

“Herzog was asked a few times by Israeli leftists if he would refuse to form a national unity government either with Bibi [Netanyahu] or his successor as Likud leader and he declined to rule it out,” said Professor Menachem Klein, a visiting fellow at King’s College, London.

“Faced with the choice of being squeezed by smaller or medium-sized parties, or a big national unity government with the other big bloc, it seems both of them would go for the second option.”

Israel’s proportional representation voting system makes coalitions virtually inevitable. No single party has won a majority since the country was founded in 1948.

Today’s election will be followed by weeks of horse-trading, with President Reuven Rivlin playing a key role. He has already expressed a preference for a national unity government.