March 17th is the day of reckoning for Benjamin Netanyahu, the man who polarises the Israeli electorate like no other. In under two weeks time there remains a possibility that the world will wake to the political obituary of Israel’s second longest-serving prime minister. Yet, there is as great a chance that Bibi will once again confound his political naysayers by clinging to the edifices of power. Due to the Byzantine nature of Israeli coalition politics, it is impossible to predict which of these scenarios will become reality.
The Israeli political system ensures that a proliferation of smaller parties usually hold the balance of power in post-election coalition manoeuvrings. This year will prove no different. The two largest parties, Netanyahu’s Likud party and the Zionist Union, led by Tzipi Livni and Isaac Herzog, seem to average out at 24 seats each based on numerous polls. In a Knesset of 120 seats, 61 is the magic number needed to reach a parliamentary majority. Thus, electoral agency will be handed to a broad spectrum of smaller parties, giving rise to many potential electoral actualities.
One such actuality would entail a centre-left coalition encompassing the Zionist Union as the leading party, along with Meretz and Yesh Atid. Polling indicates that such a coalition would fall quite a way short of the majority threshold. This being the case, rumours persist that Livni and Herzog could be open to an incorporation of the Arab parties under the United List, into a centre-left, rainbow coalition.
Conversely, will today’s right-wing status-quo hold sway? If Netanyahu can cobble together a coalition comprising the nationalist Jewish Home Party, led by Naftali Bennett, and Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu, along with the Orthodox parties, then Netanyahu mark-III would prevail. It is clearly a futile exercise to try and predict the outcome of the elections with any degree of certainty. What can be predicted are the issues that will dominate, and this is where we head next.
The reality of any Israeli election dictates that regional and wider international variables will play a part in determining the decisions of a large proportion of the electorate. Netanyahu himself benefitted from a nationalist backlash on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide after the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993 and 1995. As Mr. Security, Netanyahu was seen as the tough-talking hawk who would ensure Israel’s security in the face of renewed Palestinian militarism. His predecessor, Yitzhak Rabin, won power on the basis of fatigue at the Likud’s lack of progress on the peace front. Where do we stand today?
The regional kaleidoscope throws up the ever-looming spectre of a nuclear-armed Iran. Netanyahu’s buy neurontin no prescription gambit in causing a political ruckus in Washington last week was designed to paint himself as a global statesman. A man who can stand up to the president of the United States in order to protect tiny Israel against its big, bad enemy. Clearly, Netanyahu wants to frame the political debate on security terms, terms that find the left on historically weak ground. If Netanyahu succeeds in dictating the frame of debate by reiterating his strength on security, he will most likely win these elections. Circumstances seem propitious for such a stance.
A recent poll (June 2014) carried out by the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem shows that 50% of Israelis support a two-state solution. Since 2003, there has only ever been majority support for a two-state settlement, and with this 50% figure falling year-on-year it looks like the Likud line is holding sway. The left’s perceived ‘dovish’ views are gradually becoming more and more unpopular, illustrated by a significant shift in Israeli politics toward the right of the political spectrum. Clearly, the centre-left faces a huge task in trying to wrest power from Netanyahu.
Domestic considerations must also be taken into account. For the left to triumph, it will need to succeed in framing the political debate on its own terms. These terms need to be economic and need to draw on the spirit of the Milky social justice protests of 2011. A shoring up of the left’s position on fundamental security issues is important, but for all of Netanyahu’s flaws, he remains Mr. Security. His gallivanting to Washington this past year only serves to reinforce this image. Herzog and Livni recognise that beating Netanyahu at his own game is a self-defeating exercise. Instead of fighting an unwinnable battle on Netanyahu’s political meat and drink, a more sensible strategy would be to prey on his perceived weaknesses.
His weaknesses include incumbency and voter fatigue at his failings. The people are tired of his perceived sleaze, and tired of his failure to tackle the cost of living crisis. A campaign message driving these messages home is essential. Economically, the Milky protests remain very much in the foreground. Permeating Israeli political consciousness is the idea that Israel is becoming a country where the rich prosper, and the rest struggle. Prices are rising and wages are stagnating. Israeli twenty-something’s struggle to see a secure future having left the army. In the past 11 years alone, Israeli food prices have soared by 39%.
Fight Bibi on these issues and then it just may be bye-bye Bibi, Bibi bye-bye.