Israel Votes for a New Government
RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
NPR's Linda Gradstein joins me from Jerusalem. Hello.
LINDA GRADSTEIN: Hi, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Linda, polls show that voter turnout in Israel is expected to be among the lowest in that country's history. Why the apathy?
GRADSTEIN: First of all, even low voter turnout here is still somewhere between 60 and 70 percent. It's the fourth election in seven years, and the people are just tired of these elections. None of the candidates are charismatic. There's just a lot of apathy. At the same time, there are very important issues on the table, and this actually could turn out to be one of Israel's most fateful elections.
MONTAGNE: Well, I just mentioned a West Bank withdrawal. Talk to us about that and what else Olmert and Kadima are running on.
GRADSTEIN: Now, polls show that a majority of the Israeli public does want this withdrawal. They would rather it be with a negotiated agreement with the Palestinian Authority. At the same time, they don't think there's a Palestinian partner. So, this is a unilateral plan. Olmert says Israel will determine its own destiny. Israel will get out of at least some of the West Bank, and then annex other areas of the West Bank--what he calls the settlement blocks--to Israel. Now, that is a plan that is not going to be accepted by the Palestinians, but it is very popular in Israel.
MONTAGNE: Now, Ariel Sharon remains in a coma in a Jerusalem hospital after suffering a stroke in early January. And yet he is, in a sense, still playing a role in this election.
GRADSTEIN: At the same time, on the street in Israel, you don't hear a lot of talk about Sharon. He was somebody who dominated Israeli politics for decades--first as a general and then as the prime minister. And he was very loved by the Israeli public, especially at the end of his career. And yet, there is a sense that somehow, the public has kind of moved on and accepted the situation as it is, and is now moving on.
MONTAGNE: Linda, just briefly--even if Kadima wins, as expected, Olmert will still need support from other parties. Who are his likely partners?
GRADSTEIN: The most likely partners are the center left Labor Party with an estimated 20 seats, the ultra-orthodox Shas Party, which is slated to get about 11 seats, the left-wing Meretz Party with six or seven. So, if polls turn out as expected, Olmert will be able to put together a very stable coalition of the center and the left in Israel.
MONTAGNE: Linda, thank you.
GRADSTEIN: Thank you.
MONTAGNE: NPR's Linda Gradstein in Jerusalem.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.