Understanding Israel's January 22 Election
Shaul Mofaz, candidate of Kadima -- Livni’s former party that is expected to collapse completely in the election -- has a terrible photograph of himself with former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. That relates to Kadima’s founder, but is unlikely to win any votes. Rather than projecting leadership, the other left-of-center party leaders seem to be seeking anonymity.
What’s astonishing is the obtuseness of the opposition, especially Labor. Netanyahu is going to win, but the way to get the largest vote -- becoming the official opposition and possibly his coalition partner -- is to run on an energetic program of domestic improvements. The obvious opposition approach should be that it is the time to improve schools, the infrastructure, and to reduce housing and food prices.
People are waiting to be told that their living standards can be improved without threatening their security. A winning theme would be to say Netanyahu has neglected these domestic issues. True, the economy has done very well, but the price of relatively high employment, rapid growth, and low inflation has been high prices.
For breakfast just now, I paid $3 for a croissant and $3 for a coffee in a country where income levels average half those in the United States. Young people can’t afford an apartment in a country where rentals are relatively rare and there is not a strong mortgage system or tax deductions for paying one.
That’s why there were social protests in 2011. While going into big debt and increasing subsidies -- the trap into which most Western economies have fallen -- would be a mistake, there are certainly good shifts to be made. Instead, voters are being treated like idiots who will be won over by some silly slogan convincing them that either the prime minister is evil or will get them incinerated. That won’t win an election.
The splits in the opposition have become ridiculous. Four different parties are competing with no real differences among them and without a single charismatic leader. Mofaz may be a highly competent general but has shown himself to be a bad politician. Livni has failed repeatedly in office. Yair Lapid is following his father’s political path in bashing the Haredim (those inaccurately known generally as “ultra-Orthodox”), while Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich, widely predicted to come in second, is a radio personality with little political experience. Three of them -- except for Mofaz -- just met to discuss unity, and broke up in acrimony.
Livni has already announced she won’t go into coalition with Netanyahu, while Lapid demands that there won’t be any religious parties involved. In other words, both of them plus the hapless Mofaz have boxed themselves into a corner.
This brings us into the popular international theme about the alleged meaning of the election: Israel is moving to the right and rejecting a two-state solution. A lot of this is motivated by the agenda of making Israel look as if it is against peace, despite the fact that it is the Palestinian side that makes such a solution impossible.
Yet Netanyahu’s impending victory has nothing to do with any shift on that issue. Rather, it is due to the fact that the prime minister has done a reasonably good job, the economy is okay, terrorism is low, he’s kept out of trouble, and he has shown he can be trusted to preserve security.
Moreover, there is no very attractive figure, unity, or single impressive party on the other side. Given this situation, Netanyahu’s victory -- meaning his party will come in first and he will form the next government -- is a no-brainer.
There are four pieces of evidence that supposedly indicate the next government will be further to the right or more “hardline,” three of which are clearly bogus.
First: several supposedly moderate candidates in the Likud primary were defeated. In fact, this group -- one of whom, Benny Begin, is an honorable man but hard right -- consists of nice guys who were terrible campaigners. Nothing is less surprising than that they lost.
Second: the hardline faction of Likud, led by Moshe Feiglin, a dangerous extremist, is supposedly stronger. In fact, Netanyahu held it at bay and it would have no influence in the next government as it has not had in this one.