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Israel Faces Political Deadlock Following Elections

Tzipi Livni and Benjamin Netanyahu both claimed victory in Israel's parliamentary elections, with close vote totals throwing the prospects for building a ruling coalition into limbo. Analysts discuss the results and what they mean for the region's political future.

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    Just as the Obama administration embarks on trying to jump-start a Middle East peace process with a new special envoy, Israel finds itself in political deadlock.

    Yesterday's election, four weeks after Israel's military campaign in Gaza ended, left two candidates claiming victory: Tzipi Livni of the ruling centrist Kadima Party, who won 23 percent of the vote for 28 seats in the 120-seat Knesset; and Benjamin Netanyahu of the conservative Likud Party, with 21 percent of the vote for 27 seats.

    Further complicating the picture, a strong showing by the Israel is Our Home party of Avigdor Lieberman, who is demanding loyalty oaths by Israeli Arabs. He won 12 percent of the vote for 15 seats.

    And the flagging performance of Defense Minister Ehud Barak's Labour Party, which won just 10 percent of the vote for 13 seats.

    The remaining one-third of the vote splintered among 10 other parties.

    Weeks of bargaining are expected to put together a coalition government. In Washington, a State Department spokesman said, "We hope a new government will continue to pursue a path to peace."

    For more, David Makovsky, a former reporter and editor for Israeli newspapers, is now a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. And Aaron David Miller, a long-time State Department official involved in Mideast diplomacy, now a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. He's also the author of the recently released "The Much Too Promised Land."

    Welcome to you both.

    Aaron Miller, explain, what were the Israeli voters saying yesterday with this incredibly divided result?

    AARON MILLER, former State Department official: Well, they may not have known it, but I think this election represents the end of a very historic transition, a transition from a generation of founders who had the moral authority, the political legitimacy, and the power not only to govern, but to make decisions, to a younger generation of Israeli prime ministers who essentially are politicians, prisoners of their politics, not masters of their constituencies.

    And this transition, sadly, is coming at a time when the state of Israel faces enormous challenges, and yet it has a serious leadership deficit.


    You see that, a leadership deficit?

    DAVID MAKOVSKY, Project on the Middle East Peace Process: I would disagree a bit, because, if you think of Tzipi Livni, who led the centrist Kadima Party, she actually represents a second generation of people who used to be more to the right in the Likud, and their kids — and she's one of that second generation, whose parents were in politics — said, "Hey, it doesn't work. You've got to find a compromise with the Palestinians."

    So if you look at her, you look at Ehud Olmert, I can give you four or five other names of that generation. She's really a coming-to-terms with the need for a pragmatic center.