As many of you have no doubt seen already, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is now recovering from his second stroke in as many weeks
, though it appears extremely unlikely that he will be able to remain a candidate for the March 28 Knesset (parliament) elections. Late last year, Sharon shook up Israeli politics
by leaving Likud, the center-right party he had helped found more than three decades earlier, and founding the Kadima Party to reclaim the center of the political spectrum.
Sharon's bold move appeared to be paying off as early polling showed Kadima claiming 41 mandates in the 120-seat Knesset, nearly twice that of Labor (21 seats) and significantly more than that of Likud (11 seats).
But with Sharon's strokes have come significant questions about the viability of his new centrist party. Although Kadima certainly has a vision -- a two-state solution fostered by a measured unilateral pullout from the West Bank -- it was founded as the party of Arik Sharon. So can Kadima survive without Sharon at its helm? Yedioth Ahronoth has the answer.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Kadima party headed by Finance Minister Ehud Olmert would win 39 Knesset seats were elections held today, with Labor winning 20 seats and the Likud trailing behind with 16, a survey commissioned by Israel's leading newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth revealed Friday.
The survey, conducted by the Dahaf Institute, also revealed that Shas would win 9 seats, the Arab parties would receive 7 seats, Meretz - 6 and Shinui - 4.
According to the poll, if elections were held today with Kadima led by (former Labor Prime Minister Shimon) Peres, the party would receive 42 seats - only three more than if the party was headed by Olmert. Labor would win 17 seats, with Likud winning 16.
Parsing through the numbers, it appears as though a unity coalition between Kadima and Labor is on the cusp of the 61-seat majority required to lead the Knesset, regardless of whether Ohlmert or Peres is leading Kadima. If also allied with the Shinui Party
and/or the Meretz Party
, which are both more or less center-left, the coalition would have more than enough power to govern effectively without having to court some of the more extreme parties that often dictate Israeli policy. (By the way, there are a lot
of political parties in Israel, many of which
have members in the current Knesset).
All of this, of course, is very tentative, and anyone who has watched Israeli politics in the past would strongly warn against placing too much emphasis on polling -- especially a survey that was conducted as the Prime Minister was on the operating table. What's more, it's not entirely clear that Ohlmert, who will likely lead the Kadima Party, would even choose such a centrist coalition; he very well could create a right wing coalition with Likud and the religious parties (though this scenario isn't entirely likely either due to Ohlmert's relatively acrimonious break with Likud).
This all said, despite the dire condition of Ariel Sharon (or perhaps as a result of it), there remains a distinct possibility that Israeli politics will exile its most conservative elements to the fringe and settle instead in the middle. And if there is any hope for peace in the region, this might be a good start.