As you know, elections have been announced in Israel. When the Knesset meets next week it is likely to vote to dissolve itself, and an election date will be set; probably late January or early February 2013.
Since there are a lot of articles and analysis out there, here’s a quick summary of what is happening and what is likely, prepared by our Israel office.
Israelis go to the polls in 1951. Credit: Israel GPO
At this point, it seems extremely unlikely that anyone will succeed in unseating Netanyahu from the position of prime minister. All polls show that he will easily beat any other likely contender. Similarly, the Likud seems poised to receive the highest number of seats and the right-center block will be significantly stronger than a left-center block.
Of course three months is a long time, but a very significant and unexpected shift would have to take place in order to change what now seems to be the likely final outcome.
Netanyahu is polling 50 - 60% as the preferred prime minister. Other possible contenders poll as follows:
Livni - 28%
Olmert – 24%
Yecimovich – 17%
Mofaz – 16%
Barak - 15%
A right wing block is polling at around 68 seats versus a left wing block of 52.
The real question that remains open is what type of coalition Netanyahu will form following the elections, and this is likely to be determined by the make- up of parties in the center.
The Center Left
The real movement and possible action is occurring in the center left arena. There are currently a number of leaders, parties and figures including Yair Lapid and his new “Yesh Atid” party, Tzippi Livni, recently ousted as the Kadima head, Haim Ramon and the current head, Shaul Mofaz. In addition, Yacimovich’s Labor Party and even Barak’s Atzmaut Party could all conceivably join forces to make a larger center-left group.
There is considerable pressure on Ehud Olmert to return to politics, as he is seen as the only figure who can unite the center and pose a threat to Netanyahu. Of course Olmert is a controversial figure. Although he was acquitted of most of the charges against him, he was recently convicted of a fairly minor offence, and still faces one more trial on a corruption charge. Olmert is likely to announce his decision within a week or so.
In any event, Yacimovich is currently doing well in the polls, increasing her party’s current 8 seats to a likely 18 -20, so she is unlikely to join any combined group.
Similarly, Lapid is polling 15+ seats, so he will most likely remain independent.
As a result, the most likely case would be for Olmert to return to Kadima as party head, and bring Livni and Ramon back in to the party. As things stand now, Mofaz’s Kadima is polling only 8 seats, down from 28 in the current Knesset, meaning that the majority of Kadima members (including figures such as Nachman Shai and Ze’ev Bielski) may be out of a job in three months’ time.
There is also movement in the ultra-Orthodox, sephardi, Shas Party where rumors are strong that their spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef will reappoint former head Arye Deri as the new party leader, pushing Eli Yishai to the number 2 spot. The charismatic and popular Deri served three years’ prison time on corruption charges that he denies to this day. Under Israeli law he was prevented from entering politics for seven years from the time of his conviction. This period has now elapsed.
Ehud Barak is another interesting figure. Barak left Labor two years ago to form a new party, Atzmaut. Polls show that they may just scrape in to the Knesset, but that is far from assured. This would leave members of his party, including MK Einat Wilf, out of the next Knesset. Nonetheless, Barak himself remains quite popular, especially as minister of defense. There is a reasonable chance that Netanyahu will keep him on as defense minister in a new government, even if he is not elected to the Knesset. There is even some speculation that Barak may join and run with the Likud.
On the right, there are talks taking place to possibly unite the Bayit Hayehudi (formerly Mafdal, or National Religious) Party with the National Union. At the same time, Bayit Hayehudi is currently engaged in a three-way race for party leader between current leader and science minister Daniel Hershkowitz, veteran MK Zevulun Orlev and the young, dynamic, successful high-tech business leader Naftali Bennet.
For the first time in 65 years, the major issue in this election is not peace and security. With the peace process and diplomatic moves with the Palestinians on the back burner, and the security situation stable, focus has turned to economic and social issues.
Netanyahu will argue that his strong economic leadership and decisiveness has saved Israel from the significant problems being faced in Europe and even the U.S. On the other hand, prices are up, inequality is increasing and even more government cutbacks are on the horizon. Yacimovich’s attacks on Netanyahu’s capitalism certainly sound a chord among many Israelis.
At the same time, Iran is always on the cards and many remember then-Prime Minister Begin’s attack on the Iraqi reactor in Osirak just weeks before the election in 1981.
As always, our Israel office we will continue to update, report and bring you the latest in this election campaign.