Dr.Manfred Gerstenfeld’s latest analysis on the upcoming elections in the Israeli Knesset.
Parties Queuing Up to Join the Next Government
By Manfred Gerstenfeld
A few weeks ago, a poll found that 81% of Israelis were convinced that Benjamin Netanyahu would continue as Prime Minister after the elections on January 22nd.1 This may well account for much of the subdued public interest in the campaign. During the 2009 elections, the battle to become prime minister between Netanyahu and Tzipi Livni – then Kadima’s leader – was a central campaign issue.
Netanyahu’s main concern is different now – not to lose too many of the 42 Knesset seats currently held by his Likud/Israel is Our Home list. Polls indicate a loss of six to nine seats from the present 42.2 Simultaneously, the national religious Jewish Home party led by Naftali Bennett has increased to between two and three times the present five MKs its two factions have.3
Initially, The Likud/Israel is Our Home campaign focused its attacks on the Center/Left parties. Its spokesmen, like the Center/Left parties, attacked Bennett strongly when he said that he would rather go to jail than expel Jews from their homes. Bennett quickly backtracked. However, Likud strategists apparently concluded that bashing Bennett should become a major strategy.4 Netanyahu even attacked Bennett himself, rather than leave it to other MK’s in his party.5
Yet this approach backfired. It propelled Bennett into a central position in an otherwise lackluster campaign. Likud/Israel is our Home was even fined for sponsoring anonymous anti-Bennett ads.6 Right wing Likud candidate Moshe Feiglin criticized the party’s strategists and forecast that the Likud/Israel is our Home list would lose votes to the Jewish Home. This has since been confirmed by all polls.7 One poll also showed that one third of those intending to vote for the Jewish Home define themselves as secular, while forty percent of the votes comes from people under age thirty.8 After Bennett’s retracted statement, some voices within the Likud were heard saying that refusing orders to expel Jews was the right thing to do. It emboldened Bennett to ask Netanyahu to abandon his support for a two state solution.9
Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein presented the Knesset with an updated and more severe indictment of fraud and breach of trust against Avigdor Lieberman, who has resigned as Foreign Minister.10 Lieberman has kept a low profile in the campaign in view of the indictment. Yet he announced that he will chair the next Knesset’s Foreign Affairs committee until his acquittal.11
The political vacuum resulting from the creation of the common Likud/Israel is our Home list and Lieberman’s inability to play an important role in the campaign, gave Bennett the opportunity to position The Jewish Home firmly to the right of Netanyahu. He remained in the news by accusing Netanyahu of wanting to form a government after the elections with the two new Center/Left parties Livni’s Movement and Yair Lapid’s There is a Future.12
With Netanyahu’s likely return as Prime Minister, rumors with respect to the composition of the next government proliferated. Aryeh Deri, one of the two leaders of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party stated that Shas also sees itself in future as a Netanyahu coalition partner.13 There are persistent rumors that Livni has approached Netanyahu about joining the next government and becoming Foreign Minister.14 Negative reactions in his party led Netanyahu to state that he was reserving the ministry for Lieberman and that he disagreed with Livni’s policies.15
Labor’s leader Shelly Yachimovich challenged Netanyahu to a televised debate.16 She thus underlined that she views herself as leader of the Center/Left. Yachimovich stresses social issues as her main concern. To avoid accusations that Labor has left its classic priorities, she added that peace negotiations with the Palestinians should be renewed17
Livni promotes the idea that peace can be achieved through negotiations. Israel’s New Future leader Yair Lapid positioned himself as spokesman of the middle class saying, “We will not allow the ongoing abuse of the productive, army serving, educated and working citizen to continue.” He said that raising taxes was his party’s red line.18
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz declared that no substantial tax hikes were planned in 2013. The Governor of the Bank of Israel Stanley Fischer thereupon stated publicly that tax increases were needed.19 None of all this raised much interest.
The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Balad MK Haneen Zoabi can run in the elections overturning a Central Elections Committee’s decision. Likud reacted saying that that the existing law which made this Court decision possible should be changed.20
The campaign now moves into its final phase with the start of election broadcasting in the media. The main issues at stake seem to be: can the Likud/Israel is our Home stop its decline in the polls, will the Jewish Home be able to maintain its strong position, how will voters choose between the Center/Left parties and which minnows, Strong Israel, Rabbi Haim Amsallem’s Complete Nation and Kadima will pass or fail the election threshold of two percent of the votes?
1 Yossi Verter, “Haaretz poll: Majority of Israelis say Netanyahu will retain premiership,” Haaretz, 10 December 2012.
2 Asher Zeiger and Times of Israel Staff, “New poll shows Jewish Home gaining strength at Netanyahu’s expense,” The Times of Israel, 25 December 2012.
Jonathan Lis, “Poll: Habayit Hayehudi rises to 15 Knesset seats as Labor slides to 16,” Haaretz, 27 December 2012.
Gil Hoffman, “’Jerusalem Post’ poll: Likud-Beytenu in free fall,” Jerusalem Post, 27 December 2012.
Times of Israel Staff, “Likud-Beytenu declines to 33 seats in new poll,” Times of Israel, 28 December 2012.
“Poll: Habayit Hayehudi to be 3rd largest party,” Ynet News, 28 December 2012.
4 Gil Hoffman, Ben Hartman and Jeremy Sharon, “Likud declares war on rivals in Center-Right bloc,” Jerusalem Post, 24 December 2012.
5 Jodi Rudoren, “Dynamic Former Netanyahu Aide Shifts Israeli Campaign Rightward,” The New York Times, 26 December 2012.
6 Lahav Harkov, “Committee fines Likud Beytenu for anonymous anti-Bennett ads,” Jerusalem Post, 27 December 2012.
7 Gil Hoffman, “Feiglin: Bashing of Bayit Yehudi’s Bennet will cost Likud votes,” Jerusalem Post, 27 December 2012.
8 Gil Hoffman, “Bayit Yehudi gains 3 seats in a week, ‘Post’ poll finds,” 28 December 2012.
9 Gil Hoffman, “Bennett: Netanyahu must take back his statement of support for Palestinian state,” Jerusalem Post, 25 December 2012.
10 Yonah Jeremy Bob and Herb Keinon, “Weinstein submits updated Liberman indictment to Knesset,” Jerusalem Post, 28 December 2012
11 Lahav Harkov, “Liberman to chair defense c’tee amid legal woes,” Jerusalem Post, 25 December 2012.
12 Elad Benari, “Bennett: Netanyahu Planning Leftist Coalition,” Israel National News, 25 December 2012.
13 Jeremy Sharon, “Shas will be in next gov’t, will protect the poor,” Jerusalem Post, 26 December 2012.
14 Gil Hoffman and Lahav Harkov, “Livni reportedly in contact with PM’s aides about reclaiming Foreign Ministry,” Jerusalem Post, 26 December 2012.
15 “Livni out of Future Government,” Israel National News, 27 December 2012.
16 “Yachimovich challenges Netanyahu to public debate,” Ynet News, 24 December 2012.
17 Adiv Sterman, “Labor leader calls for immediate renewal of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks,” Times of Israel, 23 December 2012.
18 Shiri Hadar, “A new red line: Lapid’s ‘homage’ to Bibi,” Ynet News, 25 December 2012.
19 Adrian Filut, “Fischer contradicts Steinitz on tax hikes,” Globes, 27 December 2012.
20 JPost.com Staff, “High Court allows Balad MK Zoabi to run for Knesset,” Jerusalem Post, 30 December 2012.