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Opinion: Livni's Coalition Collapse Bad News for Mid-East Peace

As attempts by Israel’s Foreign Minister Zipi Livni to form a coalition government fail, DW-World’s Peter Philipp says that the moderate powers in both sides of the conflict in the Middle East have weakened.

Zipi Livni, Israel's Foreign Minister, conceded Sunday afternoon that her first attempt at building a coalition with the aim of becoming prime minister had failed. Although she could have continued in her attempts for another week, she came to the realization that in the coming days, nothing would change. In a meeting with President Shimon Peres, she said she no way around new elections.

To keep the new elections from being seen as a tragedy, Peres consoled Livni, hindered from becoming prime minister, with the statesmanlike opinion: She was not prepared to pay any possible price in order to become head of the government.

The comment hinted at the problems Livni faced in creating a unifying coalition with the Oriental-orthodox “Schas” party. The party's demands for a substantial increase in the financial benefits for having children had remained outrageous. Likewise, party members did not want to resign themselves to the fact that Livni was ready for peace with the Palestinians, even without East Jerusalem.

The peace process remains elusive

One had long suspected that nothing good would come of the resolution developed one year ago in Annapolis that foresaw an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians by the end of 2008. But once again, such peace remains elusive.

With scarcely three months leading up to the new elections, Ehud Olmert continues to officiate in his role as transitional prime minister. That transitional role, however, does not allow him to make fundamental decisions in connection to a peace deal. In particular, no decisions concerning the complete return of occupied areas in East Jerusalem can be made.

Palestinians equally affected by chaos

That inability to make decisions creates greater difficulty for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. An agreement this year would have helped re-establish some of the confidence Abbas lost during the internal-Palestinian confrontation with Hamas and Israel's unyielding attitude toward that conflict.

Regaining that confidence has become bitterly necessary for the election scheduled for January 8. Abbas has already let the registration date lapse, leading Hamas to accuse him of unconstitutional behavior.

Of course, one could also argue not to expect progress in the Middle East in the next 90 days anyway because it will only last until the next US president comes to office in January. George W. Bush will not do anything in his last weeks of his term that he hasn't done over the last eight years.

And though it may give some pleasure in knowing that the three heads of state are lame ducks about to leave, that comfort distracts from the issue at hand: the Middle East needs to come to peace. Coming to that peace should be jeopardized by the US elections, by arguments among the Palestinians, by the political blackmail of an orthodox Jewish party, nor by any other internal bickering in Israel.

Livni's inability to form the coalition now threatens the peace process even more. At present, polls are forecasting an election victory not for Livni but for “Likud” party boss Benjamin Netanyahu. One doesn't need to reread the history books to know that during Netanyahu's last term of office from 1996 to 1999, the Oslo agreement received its mortal blow.

DW.DE