February 10, 2009
In the election for the 18th Knesset, the centrist Kadima party of acting Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, the acting prime minister, wins the most seats with 28, defying polls that give the advantage to Likud. But Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu is in a better position to form a governing coalition around his right-wing party’s 27 seats.
The election is prompted by the resignation of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sept. 21, 2008, because of pending corruption charges against him. As the newly elected leader of Olmert’s party, Livni is designated as the next prime minister if she can keep a majority coalition together. But Kadima’s partners, especially Shas, prove difficult to negotiate a deal with, and the coalition talks fail over disagreements about child payments to the Haredi community and conditions for peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
After the election, President Shimon Peres gives the mandate to craft a government to Netanyahu on Feb. 20 — the first time the party with the most seats is not given the first chance to try to form a government — and he builds a majority of 69 of the Knesset’s 120 seats by joining with 15-seat Yisrael Beiteinu, led by Avigdor Liberman; 13-seat Labor, led by former Prime Minister Ehud Barak; 11-seat Shas, led by Eli Yishai; and three-seat Jewish Home, led by Daniel Hershkowitz. With the approval of the coalition March 31, Netanyahu becomes prime minister for the second time.