The Middle East Times
February 10, 2009 - 1:00am

These are troubled times for Israel as it faces new threats from new enemies in wars which have proven to be harder to combat than the traditional armies and traditional wars it faced in the past, as in the 1948 War of Independence, the June 1967 Six-Day War, or the 1973 October War.

In retrospect, fighting conventional armies has been far less complicated than fighting asymmetric wars, or small wars, as has been the case with battling Hezbollah in the north and Hamas in the south.

How to address this issue - whether to fight Hamas in Gaza (and quite possibly Hezbollah in Lebanon as well), or negotiate with the radical Islamist Palestinian movement (and ignore Hezbollah for the moment) - will be the responsibility of the future prime minister, which some 5.3 million voters will decide on Tuesday and to whom they will entrust the responsibility of leading the country.

In fact Israelis vote for a party rather than for an individual, and the leader of the winning party is then tasked with forming the new government, on condition the party has the majority.

There are four major contenders in the race: former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the front-runner in polls, representing the Likud Party; Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni of the centrist and Kadima Party; the former prime minister and current minister of defense, Ehud Barak from the Labor Party; and the Ultra-rightist Avigdor Lieberman, who might end up costing Netanyahu the prime ministership, as he will most likely take away votes that were intended for Netanyahu.

Ironically, Netanyahu, who was given the odds of winning this election, has seen his popularity dwindle by the recent war in Gaza as Israelis seem to be leaning more toward Livni since the 23-day war, and to Lieberman at the other end of the political spectrum.

As is often the case in Israel there might not be a clear-cut winner, and the kingmaker will be a smaller party, or the 10-15 percent of still-undecided voters.

This is ironic because as a result Netanyahu, once on the far right now finds himself in the unpopular center position. On one side is Kadima, proposing to pursue peace talks with the Palestinians; and on the other is Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu Party, which pledges to get tougher on Palestinians, including Israeli Arab citizens of the State of Israel, and supports continued expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank.

That is the choice Israeli voters will have to make: a vote for peace, or a vote to up the ante with the Arabs


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