The highly-personalized campaigns for Israel’s March 17 general election are by and large lackluster while exhausting the electorate’s patience with patently drummed up scandals. On the traditional issues, no party leader can promise to alter the Obama administration’s views on Jerusalem, or break down Palestinian Authority resistance to a negotiated peace. Opposition efforts to prioritize social disparities, in place of the familiar security concerns or the Palestinian issue, fall flat, whereas chronic faultfinding over the soured relations with Washington has faded from op-ed pages and interviews since President Obama hitched his Middle East policy to the Iranian cart.
The lack of political focus is reflected in the don’t care responses to the opinion surveys conducted privately by party strategists. The last week of December registered only marginal differences from the first, with one-third still undecided about their choices for the 20th Knesset and next government.
LIkud, led by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, is assessed currently as leading with 21-23 Knesset seats (out of 120); opposition Labor under Yitzhak Herzog and his new partner, former Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, falling back to 20 from a promising start; Economy Minister Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home has reached 16 and set to rise; Yair Lapid’s Future, which debuted last year with 19 seats, has plummeted to eight.
Less than 10 weeks before the vote, no party has been able to electrify the voter – either by a thrilling message or a charismatic new face.
Herzog’s clarion call for “change!” and his decision to rotate the premiership with his new partner (if Labor is elected) were greeted with shrugs.,
Moshe Kahlon’s new party “Kulanu” remains stuck at 8 mandates, more or less equal to Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beitenu, which has taken a beating after a large group of its top people was rounded up by the police on suspicion of corruption crimes.
Kahlon, who tried headhunting former IDF generals with impressive military records to man his security ticket, found they lacked drawing power with the man in the street. One general after another was interviewed, only to prove he was no vote-catcher.
The ultra-religious Shas is split by the rivalry between its two leaders, Aryeh Deri’ and former minister Eli Yishay. Yishay broke away to form a new grouping and appears to have run off with most of the party’s hard core of 60-70,000 adherents.
The parties hit by the apathy sweeping the electorate turn out to be newcomers and veterans alike: Kahlan and Future, on the one side, and Yisrael Beitenu, Labor and Likud, on the other.
The new parties were unable to grab popular attention by dwelling on the social gap and the proportion of poor families, and the well-established factions were just as unsuccessful in pushing forward national security. Inveighing against the Netanyahu for not getting along with Obama does not resonate, since the largely right-of center electorate sides with the prime minister in the falling-out
No Israeli politician can take the risk of siding publicly with Obama when it is clear that his Middle East policies and collaboration with Iran in the war on ISIS will gradually lead Iraq into Tehran’s clutches.
In an apparent mission to clear the air, Ambassador Martin Indyk, former US envoy to the moribund peace talks with the Palestinians, was in Israel this week. He explained to a number of figures and audiences that the Obama administration had secretly concluded a provisional deal with Iran that answers all of Israel’s concerns.
He also presented the plunge in oil prices as the outcome of another secret deal, this one between Washington and the Saudis.
Neither of these fictional hares ran far, as Ambassador Indyk found when he put them before the Israeli politicians he met.
As for the Palestinian issue, Mahmoud Abbas had not by Monday, Dec. 29, still mustered the nine UN Security Council votes he needed for tabling his motion to order Israel to pull back to pre-1967 lines within two years. His threat if this ploy failed to sue Israeli leaders and generals for war crimes before the international court was greeted by electioneering Israelis with a healthy dose of skepticism.
In any case, Abbas’ diplomatic tactics are opposed by most Palestinian leaders in Ramallah.
So, no Israeli politician with any realistic prospects is likely to stick his neck out to back Abbas, any more than he ventures to voice sympathy for Obama’s Mid East policies.