Results of the Israeli elections are in, and the new Kadima Party (led by acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert) seems to have carried the day, although it won fewer seats in Parliment than expected.
According to the Israeli television, Kadima will win 29-32 seats in the new Kenesset; the Labor Party will have 20-22 seats, while the conservative Likud Party won only 11-12 seats. The results were a dramatic defeat for Likud, which has dominated Israeli politics for more than two decades.
Olmert is expected to form a coalition government with Labor and other, minor parties. He also intends to pursue former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan of withdrawing from the West Bank, and continuing peace talks with the Palestinians. Likud hoped to capitalize on security concerns among Israeli voters, spared by Sharon's incapacitation, Hamas's victory in Palestinian parlimentary elections, and the looming Iran nuclear threat.
But conservatives in Israel are divided. The ultra-right Beitenu Party, led by a one-time aide to former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, increased its representation in the Kenesset from two seats, to as many as 14, eclipsing Likud. Beitenu favors, among other things, redrawing Israeli borders to exclude its Arab citizens.
Turnout was low for an Israeli election, particularly one where the stakes we so high. That suggests that some Israelis couldn't stomach any of the candidates, and expressed their dissatisfaction by staying home. I haven't seen any detailed exit polls, but I'm guessing that many of the no-shows were conservative voters, turned off by Kadima's expected triumph, the prospect of giving back more land to the Palestinians, and the split within their own ranks.
On the other hand, Kadima's win suggests that enough Israelis are willing to give Ariel Sharon's strategy for peace a little more time. It will now be up to Olmert to make that strategy a reality. I'm not sure that the new Prime Minister has a mandate, but he has enough breathing room to keep advancing the "peace process," until Hamas launches another terrorist offensive, or Iran reaches the point of no return in its efforts to build nuclear weapons. At that point, the bloom may be off the Kadima rose, but fortunately for Mr. Olmert, conservatives are in no position to effectively challenge him until they get their own house in order.