Benjamin Netanyahu won a surprising political victory today and may have marginalized his most prominent opponent in the process.  The new Prime Minister of Israel got Labor into his coalition in a close but successful vote in the left-wing party.  That leaves Kadima and its leader, Tzipi Livni, out in the cold:

Israel’s Labor Party voted Tuesday to join the incoming government of Benjamin Netanyahu, giving a centrist tone to the coalition that has looked hard-line up to now. Party secretary Eitan Cabel announced the results of the voting after a heated debate — 680 in favor and 507 against.

Ofer Eini, head of the Histadrut labor union and a senior Labor Party operative, told Israel’s Army Radio, “I’m happy that party delegates have decided to enter the government.” But others chanted slogans like “Disgrace” after the announcement.

Netanyahu has signed coalition agreements with Yisrael Beitenu and Shas, two parties known for their tough policy lines toward the Palestinians, as is Netanyahu’s own Likud Party. Labor, in contrast, has been in the forefront of Mideast peace efforts.

Labor’s 13 seats in the parliament would give Netanyahu a majority of 66 in the 120-seat house, but there is a possibility that the party could split as a result of the vote, and some members might choose to remain in the opposition.

Netanyahu’s victory leaves Kadima without firm footing in Israel.  Ariel Sharon launched Kadima as a way to claim the center from Likud and Labor despite having spent decades building the former and fighting the latter.  Livni now leads the party, and had hoped to force Netanyahu out by blocking any majority coalition, making her the next choice to form a government.

Kadima can go into opposition, but how would they position themselves?  A Likud-Labor alliance would encompass the political spectrum and leave them little ground to build a coherent opposition.  YidwithLid‘s sources in Israel say that Kadima has belatedly begun to understand the hole they’ve put themselves in by Livni’s refusal to work with Netanyahu and that they may decide to make it a national-unity government after all.

We’ll see.  At this point, though, we know that Netanyahu has clearly outboxed Livni, and her party may need to rethink its leadership.

Tags: Israel