By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
Even a fool wouldn’t dare predict the outcome of the Israeli elections on March 17, but a somewhat less confusing picture may be emerging. It entitles us to speculate, even though what follows below may, in the eyes of some, only add to the confusion.
The real contest is between Netanyahu’s Likud and Herzog-Livni’s new vaguely leftist party. The former stresses defense, the latter social justice. Since both are most likely employing pollsters, judging by the attacks from the Likud side, it’s reasonable to assume that they’ve evidence that the left is doing well.
If the trend persists and Herzog and Livni get more Knesset seats than Netanyahu, they’ll be asked to form the next government. The likelihood is that the centrist parties (Lapid’s *Yesh Atid and Kahlon’s *Kulanu) will be happy to join them, as will the no doubt weakened *Shas (soon again to be led by Deri who’s being “persuaded” to take charge: he has said that he’s not an ass and only an ass doesn’t change his mind….). So will *Lieberman’s “Russians” (what will be left of it in view of the seemingly enormous web of corruption within it and around it). *Meretz, the consistently Socialist party, will no doubt want to be a partner. *The Arab parties will support it, even though, traditionally, they’ve never been represented in an Israeli government.
Several small parties aren’t likely to make the cut. They may not even run.
A Herzog-Livni government will have a great impact on the international scene. Dennis Ross said as much in an interview Israeli national television. As reluctant as the Palestinians may be to sue for peace (Ross in the New York Times), they’d find it impossible not to negotiate with the pair. Livni seems to have considerable credibility among the Palestinians, but when she was the designated negotiator on behalf of the Netanyahu government, she was only a fig leaf.
The implications on the Diaspora will also be considerable in view of its current demonstrable and demonstrative leaning to the right. If the leaders (owners) of many ostensibly representative Jewish organizations are true to their word that they always support the Israeli government in power, they’ll have to adapt. The US Presidents’ Conference may even eat humble pie and admit J Street into membership.
Of course everything can change quickly. The long-awaited indictment of one of the stalwarts on Israel’s left, Binyamin Ben Eliezer, will happen. He’s now a sick man and among a number of sitting Members of Knesset who won’t seek re-election.
There’s still a possibility that Likud’s real rival on the right – Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi – will do well. It’s the settlers’ party and with it at the helm, polite conversations, let alone negotiations, with Palestinians would be impossible. A journalist has tried to cast aspersions on Bennett’s army record, but that’s not likely to stick.
As can be read from the above, there’s plenty of mud around: Deri’s antics and his split with Eli Yishai; the corruption scandal around Lieberman; Ben Eliezer and even Bennett. And we still have some ten weeks to go!
It’s worth noting, however, that though Netanyahu may have lost some popularity because he’s been around so long, there’re no signs of scandal around him. The media have even stopped attacking his wife. The important question is, of course, if that’ll be enough to re-elect him. Or is the country ready to be taken in a different direction?