October 9, 2012
Four unsolved questions for Israel’s upcoming elections
We will have plenty of time to discuss Israel’s upcoming elections – announced today – in the next three months or so. The final date is not yet known, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu aims to have them as early as he possibly can, and three months is what the Central Election Committee usually requires as minimum.
This means that election will take place between mid-January – if Netanyahu gets what he wants – or mid-February if he doesn’t. Since we can’t discuss all political calculations in one post or one evening, what we have for you today is a number of questions to be pondered in the coming weeks – questions that will determine the outcome and the aftermath of these coming elections. And as usual, we recommend our J Meter features for those interested in real-time numbers and updates: The Israel Poll Trends tracker is exactly what you need between now and February if you want to know more than others about Israel’s political situation.
So, four questions: not detailed ones related to the personal fate of candidates or the chances of specific parties to win some or lose some – but rather the big-theme questions that one needs to ask before one delves into the more nuanced math of party affiliation and the nasty arithmetic of primary battles.
Election theme - economy or security?
The reason for calling early elections was the economy. Or, to put it more accurately, Netanyahu’s lack of desire to pass a budget that will not be easy to swallow before the elections. But as our tracker clearly demonstrates, for Netanyahu it is preferable that the main topics pondered by the public before election day are more about security and defense than about the budget and the economy. How he is going to make the shift from the real reason to his ultimate winning theme is an open question. Luckily for him, he is the prime minister, and PMs have many ways of setting an agenda.
What kind of coalition does Netanyahu want?
He will be the prime minister. There’s very little chance that he won't. There is no one even remotely viable as an alternative to Netanyahu who can run and win in three months. The question then is not about the PM, but rather about the coalition he will try to establish following the election. Does Netanyahu want to keep his so-called “natural allies” as his main partners – making life easier for himself politically, but also reducing his chances of achieving something of significance? In the debate over the military draft of ultra-Orthodox men, Netanyahu was loyal to his allies and went against the wishes of most Israelis. But one day he might decide that it's time for him to rock the boat. Or maybe not.
Can the center-left coordinate or cooperate?
There are many questions to be asked about Israel’s center-left, but the first one is about the ability of these three-or-four-or-who-knows-how-many parties to cooperate in an attempt to force Netanyahu into adopting more centrist policies. Right now, the center left is comprised of Kadima – more a corpse than a party; Labor – now seen as the most viable opposition party; Yesh Atid, Yair Lapid’s party – this is still a mystery; Tzipi Livni’s party – if it even materializes (I heard today from a Knesset Member claiming to know that she is still “hesitating”, but obviously, Netanyahu’s announcement this evening will force her into ending her procrastination); then there’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak – on the cusp of making it into the next Knesset with his fraction of a party. All these parties will make a wonderful cacophony at Israel’s political center, but whether they can form a political “bloc” is another matter.
Can new players become game changers?
This question applies to Lapid, when his party is finally presented to the public (he has promised to so in the coming 10 days). It applies to Livni – not a newcomer, but the possible leader of a new party that Haim Ramon will build for her, should she decide to run. It could be former prime minister Ehud Olmert, although very few believe that he can make it in time for this round. It could be former minister and convicted felon Aryeh Deri, if he decides to truly form a party and steal votes from his former Shas party. All of the players above could enter the race and change its dynamic, but they would have to move pretty quickly.