Susan Blatt, Portland, Oregon: Did Israelis vote Kadima because of what it is, or what it isn't? Can Kadima lead an effective government with less than a quarter of the seats?
David Horovitz: It seems that many people voted for the party or leader they least disliked, rather than most admired. With Kadima, they certainly knew what they were voting for more clearly than they would have done had Sharon led the party into the elections. Sharon was insisting he had no plans for further disengagement, even as he insisted that he would set Israel's final borders and that there was no one to talk to on the Palestinian side. That didn't make sense. Olmert made plain his readiness, if necessary, for further unilateralism. So those who voted for Kadima know that that's what he might well do, sooner or later.
Yes, I think Kadima will be able to muster a coalition with a stable majority for the near future - some mix of Labor, Shas, United Torah Judaism, and possibly Israel Beitenu. It's if and when we get to the stage of unilateral withdrawal that this stability might well be impacted. Shas is opposed to unilateralism. So too is Israel Beitenu. UTJ voted against disengagement under Sharon. Then again, having voted no, UTJ did stay in the Sharon coalitionâ€¦
Boris Celser, Calgary, Canada: How would you feel if you were told by the government that you and your family will have to be inwardly converged out of Jerusalem in 2007, without a home or job prospects, with the whole world applauding? Regardless of how you felt, would you agree not to put up any resistance, and to go meekly and write a farewell editorial, in order not to antagonize the Muslim world?
David Horovitz: You write as though this is some kind of theoretical issue of interest only to history or the scoring of points. Israel has just held an election that seems certain to make Ehud Olmert prime minister by right rather than by inheritance, and he ran on a clearly and candidly presented plan for a much more substantial withdrawal than last summer's disengagement from Gaza and northern Samaria. Those Israelis who voted for him did so not because they see this as a way "not to antagonize the Muslim world" as you put it. They did so because they see it as Israel's best interest.
If Olmert moves ahead towards what he calls convergence, I fear that the internal trauma for Israel will dwarf what we went through last summer and I hope that the Jewish nation will somehow find the wisdom and the strength to get through it. I would hope that a government gearing up for a second disengagement would prepare properly for the consequences, in every aspect, most certainly including ensuring reasonable alternative accommodation and employment opportunities for the people directly affected, as was most certainly not the case last summer.
David Sterne, Jerusalem, Israel: Is it fair to call this election a "referendum on convergence"? Only one party espoused this policy; the others espoused negotiations or "staying put." The party that espoused "convergence" won less than 25% of the vote, which itself represented less than two thirds of the populace. That means that "convergence" merited to roughly 15% approval among Israelis at large. A true referendum would likely poll far more people on this one issue. Can the to-be-formed government really claim that there is broad-based support for the centerpiece of its policy, or will it be trying to force it on an unwilling populace?
David Horovitz: I think that an appropriate way of analyzing the election results is to tally the number of seats won by what you might call the center-left bloc of Kadima, Labor, Meretz and the Pensioners' Party. Together, according to the almost final results, they won 59 seats in the Knesset. Broadly speaking, these are parties that do not endorse settlement throughout Judea and Samaria and would relinquish much of the West Bank.
On the other side, you have the Likud and the National Union-National Religious Party alliance, which favor maintaining control everywhere that Israel is presently controlling in Judea and Samaria. Together, they won 20 seats.
In between, you have the seats won by Shas, United Torah Judaism and Israel Beitenu, all of them sympathetic to the settlement enterprise, but with Shas not committed to Greater Israel and with Israel Beitenu theoretically prepared to relinquish even territory inside Israel's sovereign borders.
That adds up to a truly fragmented electorate that did not overwhelmingly endorse Olmert's "convergence" plan, and more definitively did not endorse the continued maintenance of settlements throughout the West Bank.
Nchemia Lipiner, Plainview, New York, USA: Mr. Horovitz, do you think that Netanyahu will eventually leave Politics?
David Horovitz: It was striking that in contrast to his previous election defeat, when he immediately announced a timeout from politics, this time, he announced his intention to stay on even before the first real votes had been counted, solely on the strength of the (accurately) predicted Likud humiliation in the TV exit polls. He certainly doesn't want to leave politics, but many in his party are now trying to oust him. Still, even if they succeed, he is more than young enough to mount a subsequent comeback.
David Sandhaus ,Merced: Do you believe the low voter turnout is an indicator that Israelis lack confidence in the ability of current politicians to resolve the war with terrorists?
David Horovitz: I can't honestly get my head around the low turnout. I find it truly extraordinary that in an election when the borders of the country were at stake, in a country where everyone does army service, a sizable proportion of the electorate couldn't be bothered to cast a vote.
It's a reflection of alienation from politics, of laziness, of the absence of compelling political personalities and of policy options that Israelis find definitively persuasive. But in utter contrast to the protest vote for the pensioners - and that's what it was, a protest vote, born among other factors of the sense of widening economic inequalities - the stay-away protest is dangerous and dismaying.
Skip Kelley Sunnyvale, California, USA: In comparison to other elections, how hard was it to adequately cover this one? There was so much going on both inside and outside of the election. It must have been hard to decide what to cover? What did your paper do differently this time? By the way I think you did an outstanding job!
David Horovitz: Thanks for the compliment. We have a compact but highly motivated and hard working reporting and editing staff and tried to make the best possible use of that team. Since this is the first Israeli election since I took over as editor, I can't really say how coverage differed from previous elections, but we tried to make sure our readers had a good sense of what the parties stood for, what their leaders were like, how they were being received... We also were extremely wary of the opinion polls, even the supposedly reliable TV exit polls, which is why we took care with our front page headline on election night to state "Exit polls show Olmert can form 'pullout' gov't," rather than asserting his victory as a fact before the real votes had been counted.
Shayes, Washington DC: The Right will never win with a religious leader(NU/NRP), nor will it ever again win with Likud because of its recent history. Do you think that Lieberman's good showing among not just Russians but also Israelis, suggests that this can become the next great right party?
David Horovitz: I don't quite understand what it is Lieberman stands for. He speaks of a willingness to relinquish parts of sovereign Israel, says this could be done only in negotiation with the Palestinians, discounts the prospect of such negotiations being possible in the foreseeable futureâ€¦
Perhaps he benefited from the strong man image in the absence of perceived strong man Sharon. He certainly thinks that the political flow is with him and that he would do better still next time. But I'd caution against any definitive conclusions about the demise of the religious right, the Likud or any other political grouping. This is Israeli politics. We have a seven-strong pensioners' party in the Knesset that nobody saw coming. Anything is possible.
Josh Gitlitz, New York, New York: David, now that the election is over, do you think that the discipline we've seen in the Kadima party since Sharon's incapacitation will last? Surely these strange bedfellows will be harder to manage now.
David Horovitz: Olmert is going to have a hard time finding enough frontline jobs for all the frontline egos. Moreover, many in Kadima are understandably dismayed that they fared so much worse than the polls of a few weeks ago predicted. On the other hand, this is a party that barely really existed and here it is as the largest in the Knesset. The shared interest of Kadima's members is plainly in maintaining discipline and cohesion. Let's see if they have the capacity to recognize and stick to that.
Leonard, Beder, Los Angeles, California: What is the likely composition of the future government?
Like I said, Kadima, Labor, the Pensioners and some combination of one or more of Shas, UTJ and Israel Beitenu. I don't think Olmert will bring Arab parties into his coalition. I don't think he needs Meretz. He probably wouldn't mind the Likud, if led by Silvan Shalom rather than Netanyahu, but that's for the future.
Jeff Rubin, San Diego, CA, USA How would you judge Amir Peretz's performance as the Labor Party leader in this election?
David Horovitz: Labor didn't do too badly, essentially maintaining its Knesset weight after declining in past elections. So that's a success of sorts. But I think Peretz lost votes for so insistently refusing to personally take positions on security issues and many in Labor will be asking why those who voted in the seven pensioners didn't vote for Labor.
David Delich, Tucson, Arizona, USA: Labor did quite well, much better then I expected. Do you think that it was because of the majority of Israelis' financial situations?
David Horovitz: That was part of it. And there were those who favor Labor's policies on the Palestinians, however slightly they differ from Kadima's. There may have been voters who mistrusted Kadima, fearing it might sway back to the right, and so stuck with Labor.
Eli Sharabi, London, England: What will Olmert's policies be towards the Diaspora and assimilation in general?
David Horovitz: I think he'll want to maintain a strong relationship with the Diaspora. He knows American Jewry and Diaspora Jewry pretty well, travels a lot, and speaks good English. I'm sure he'll want to encourage aliya and the flourishing of Israel-Diaspora youth and educational programming. I don't think he differs much from Sharon on this, although I wonder if for Sharon all these Jewish issues resonated particularly deeply.
Baruch Pelta, Jerusalem: I think the thing Israelis and Jews throughout the Diaspora really want to know is: Which territories can we expect to possibly be exchanged to the Palestinian Authority?
David Horovitz: The era of "exchange" seems to be over for the time being. This election was a choice not between staying put and negotiating, but rather between staying put and withdrawing unilaterally. Olmert says he intends to converge to a security line set by the route of the security barrier, which he may adjust. That line encompasses only a small proportion of the West Bank and the majority of the settlers. The question is how rapidly does he intend to "converge" and will he have a government to back him and a public that holds together.
David Fishman, New York, New York: Will the security of Israel be improved, remain the same, or be reduced as a result of the Kadima coalition, and Hamas governing the PA?
David Horovitz: Kadima seems set for the time being to maintain the same security policies as in the last few months. Hamas, for now, seems to be maintaining its relative fall-off in terrorist actions, even as splinter groups like Islamic Jihad relentlessly attempt attacks. The fundamental climate is discouraging, to put it mildly.
The Palestinians have tied their fate to a government that is bent on eliminating Israel. It fosters a mindset of violent jihad. One of its legislators, when the Hamas government was sworn in this week, spoke of the great desire to die for Allah. Another Palestinian generation is being educated in hatred and intolerance. Nobody's security is going to benefit from that.
Arnold Moscisker, Barnet: What further alignment of Israeli politics do you see in the coming years? For example will the Likud merge with other right wing parties?
David Horovitz: Israeli politics is thoroughly unpredictable. Shinui, a substantial Knesset party, disappeared overnight. Evaporated into thin air. It is unthinkable that the Likud would disappear, but then again it was unthinkable that the Likud would do this badly in the elections.
Dan Shamir, Tel Aviv, Israel: In light of the downfall of Hetz and Shinui, is there a need for a party to represent secular interests?
David Horovitz: Shinui evaporated in an orgy of egotism and in-fighting having failed to champion even the narrow interests on which it was elected. I don't mourn its disappearance.
I think Israel is handicapped by the plethora of minor parties. It paralyzes government, and undermines the widest national interests. I wish that sectoral interests could be addressed within the major electoral groupings.