The Israeli election results.

What the foreign papers are saying.
March 29 2006 4:33 PM

Olmert Macher

The international media sort through the Israeli election results.

On Tuesday, Ehud Olmert's Kadima Party eked out a first-place finish in the Israeli elections, and Ariel Sharon's successor now faces the unenviable task of making five—count 'em—major parties happy while forming his coalition government. Not surprisingly, this "Big Bang" of a vote gets major play in the international press.

The French coverage of the poll follows a predictable pattern: Headlines highlighting the narrowness of victory? Check. Tedious profiles of Olmert? Check. Hand-wringing over the Palestinian reaction to the results? Check.

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Both left-leaning Le Monde and even leftier Libération serve up special online editions for the occasion (including this handy international press review). Le Monde quotes Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as saying that the elections "will change nothing." Meanwhile, on the right, Le Figaro features an interview with Khaled Mechaal, the head of Hamas' political office, who says the price for peace, if the Israelis "opt" for it, is "a complete withdrawal from the Occupied Territories, immediate cessation of violence, and the recognition of the legitimate rights of the Palestinians."

If you're having trouble sleeping, read these profiles of Olmert. The one you'll actually enjoy? This, from Libération, which reveals that he likes cigars, impeccably tailored suits, and first-class travel.

Most of the papers focus on Olmert as he "gets down to" the business of creating a coalition government. But Libération deepens its already stellar coverage with articles examining Labor politico Amir Peretz and good ol' B-Net, who, it says, is "in the ruins of Likud." In an editorial titled "A Small Yes," the paper calls the vote a ratification of the move away from the right's "dogma of 'Greater Israel.' "

A commentary in the Guardian harps on Kadima's poor performance despite the victory, suggesting that if the old "Bulldozer" had been around, the party would have trounced its opponents. Instead, "complacency," Olmert's arrogant description of the vote as a "done deal," and Sharon's palpable absence ensured the near-loss.

A surprise winner was the Pensioners Party, which garnered eight seats in the Knesset thanks to young supporters. A Guardian op-ed attributes the party's popularity to the cool factor. Voting for the alter kockers "was the hip thing to do," a way to support "actual individuals who laid the first foundations for the country where they were born." The author advises, "Watch that trend."

An analysis by the London Times' Middle East editor calls the election a wash because the diverse platforms of the parties in the ruling coalition will make it difficult to form a cohesive government. Also, he writes, the elections offered some insight into the minds of the Israeli electorate—it is not all about the Palestinians: "[V]oters took Israel's social problems into consideration and did not just focus on relations with the Palestinians, the central theme of Mr. Olmert's election campaign."

Another Times article checks in with employees at the hospital where former Prime Minister Sharon has lain in a coma since early January, finding that most staffers do not lionize the statesman. A surgeon told the Times reporter, "I glimpse him nearly every day. But the big fuss is over. He is a patient now, not the Prime Minister."

An editorial in Israel's Ha'aretz reminds the nation's new leaders to keep an open mind when talking to the Palestinians—but to proceed with caution: "Israel's new government must announce its willingness to talk to any Palestinian element that calls for an agreement based on a two-state solution. Israel has no interest in lowering the threshold of demands from the Haniyeh government to below the one set by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas: recognition of all prior agreements signed with Israel, including an end to the armed struggle."

The paper's profile of the likely new prime minister reads like a love letter: "Olmert's many years in politics have made him quite familiar with the public and financial systems in Israel. He already knows the senior government administration, the businessmen, the mayors, the army brass and foreign diplomats. He has an excellent memory, and takes an interest in the personal lives of the people to whom he speaks. Olmert is thus very accessible, and those who want to make their voices heard are able to reach him. The downside is that the support Olmert has may make it difficult for him to make unpopular decisions."

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