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Netanyahu Faces Divided Opposition in Israeli Elections

National security is the key issue.

by
Jonathan Spyer

Bio

December 30, 2012 - 11:08 pm
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The centrist lists of Livni and Lapid would win 11 and 10 seats respectively, according to the poll.

Overall, the right wing and religious bloc would hold 68 seats in the Knesset, compared to 52 seats for the center, left, and Arab blocs.

Since in the Israeli system it is customary for the largest single list to be asked to form the government, the yawning gap between Likud-Beiteinu and its nearest rival is the key factor. The larger size of the overall right-wing bloc is also significant, since it will make it easier for Netanyahu to form a workable coalition.

But while the big picture is good from Netanyahu’s point of view, there are a number of more negative elements.

First, the general trend of support for his party is negative. The two parties which comprise Likud-Beiteinu (namely, the Likud and Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party) currently hold 42 seats between them.  So their merger appears to be costing them support.  More rightist voters are migrating to the Jewish Home party of Naftali Bennett, which is rising in the polls.

Second, this decline appears to be continuing, with Likud-Beiteinu  down from scoring a potential 39 seats in earlier polls, to around 35 at the present time.  This does not seriously threaten prospects of victory. But it is surely a matter of concern for the prime minister.

Third, the prime minister’s partner, former Foreign Minister and Yisrael-Beiteinu  party leader Avigdor Lieberman, is currently embroiled in legal troubles.  Lieberman resigned his position as foreign minister after the attorney-general’s office announced its intention of filing charges against him on counts of fraud and breach of trust.

Lieberman looks inclined to reject a plea bargain, since this could keep him out of politics if a clause of “moral turpitude” is inserted into the deal.  If he insists on going to trial, this could mean he is embroiled in legal proceedings in the midst of the election campaign.

But while these matters are serious, the overall picture is positive from the prime minister’s point of view.  Barring some unforeseen disaster, Netanyahu looks set for an easy reelection.

Clearly, Israel’s center-left lacks a leader of comparable stature to the prime minister.  This camp remains distrusted by a broad section of the Israeli public because of the failed Oslo peace process experiment and the bloody period of Palestinian terrorism that followed it.  This distrust explains Yachimovich’s strategy of trying to change the subject.

With the region in the midst of turmoil, it is not surprising that a critical mass of Israelis appear set to endorse the cautious, conservative, security-conscious orientation of Netanyahu.  Unless and until the center-left can produce a leader able to give the impression that he or she can be trusted with the handling of Israel’s regional security imperatives, the current near-hegemonic position of Israel’s center-right looks likely to hold.

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Jonathan Spyer is a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, and a fellow at the Middle East Forum. He is the author of The Transforming Fire: The Rise of the Israel-Islamist Conflict (Continuum, 2011).
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