'Obama Effect' Energizes Israel's Election

Article excerpt

Byline: Joshua Mitnick, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

TEL AVIV -- Barack Obama's coattails may extend all the way to Israel.

With the Jewish state set to choose its next prime minister less than a month after Mr. Obama's Jan. 20 inauguration, candidates Tzipi Livni and Benjamin Netanyahu are competing to cast themselves as Obama-like champions of change, clean government and bipartisanship.

Mrs. Livni, the foreign minister and leader of the centrist Kadima party, calls for an end to partisan factionalism. Mr. Netanyahu, a former prime minister and leader of the hard-line Likud Party, argues that he is the candidate of change because Mrs. Livni's party has been in power since it split from Likud three years ago.

The influence of the U.S. election shouldn't be surprising, said Eyal Arad, a strategist for Mrs. Livni.

Our political cultures are in such close proximity to each other. Israelis feel that they are close to Americans, he said. In a basic way they tend to inspire each other.

That sentiment could reinforce the Israeli public's longing for a leader free of police investigations that have become a pandemic among Israeli prime ministers.

Some observers say Mrs. Livni's image as an honest broker untainted by corruption puts her in an ideal position to benefit from the change in the United States.

I would count on the Obama effect, said Hebrew University professor Shlomo Aronson. Obama made it thanks to his role as something new. This seems, to an extent, also to be the case of Tzipi Livni. She also seems to be new, she seems to be clean and fresh.

Mr. Netanyahu has his own case for change.

As if taking a page out of the Democrats' playbook linking Republican candidate Sen. John McCain to President Bush, a Netanyahu aide sought to link Mrs. Livni to a comment Monday by outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on the need to divide Jerusalem as part of any peace deal.

The person that has handled the negotiations with the [Palestinians] is Livni, Gideon Sa'ar, a Likud parliamentarian, told Israel Radio. "The person who said immediately after her election [as Kadima party leader] that she would continue the policy of Olmert toward the Palestinians and the Israelis is Livni. Everyone knows there has been full policy cooperation between Olmert and his deputy.''

Mr. Arad, who once worked for former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, cautioned that it is too early to say whether Mr. Obama's coattails would prove decisive for either candidate.

National security issues, he said, will play a relatively more prominent role in Israel's election than they did in the United States. …