This leads to the particular irony that despite there being few substantial policy differences between all bar one of the political parties, many people claim that Israel is polarised and divided.
So how can this be?
This is not an election about whether to make peace with the Palestinians, this is not an election about what to do with Iran and this is not an election on the results of the recent Gaza war.
This is also not an election about haredim, social justice or numerous other internal issues.
This is an election about Bibi Netanyahu and optics.
The polarisation is around the Prime Minister himself.
Bibi IS the issue.
This is an election between those who support Bibi and those who support anyone but Bibi.
Whilst there are little policy differences between almost all of the parties, their manner and words in reaching the same conclusions “sound” different.
The real game is therefore the optics.
For example, both Bibi and Labor are committed to a 2 State Solution.
Both Bibi and Labor are committed to those 2 States being a Jewish State alongside an Arab/Palestinian State.
Both are opposed to the so called Palestinian Right of Return.
Both are committed to retaining the settlement blocks and therefore the vast majority of the so called settlers.
Both are worried that a Palestinian State will bring another Hamastan, this time on Israel’s east.
And neither believes a Palestinian State is going to happen anytime soon.
Nor does the Israeli public.
So in the absence of policy differences, it’s all about intentions, gauging the sincerity there of and sound bites – that is, optics.
How does it look? How does it sound?
Now this is important, but this is more important to Jews and Israel’s allies outside of Israel generally, than inside Israel herself.
The truth is that Bibi has a long history of being a poor election performer and has never been strongly supported by the voters.
At the same time, the truth is also that with the exception of one devastating electoral defeat in 1999 to Ehud Barak, no-one has come along who is much more popular than Bibi either.
The Likud under his leadership regularly achieves only around 20% plus/minus of the total Knesset seats – and all of the problems of governing flow from that statistic.
So, in short, Bibi is not all that popular, but no-one is more popular.
It is possible to make the following points about what will happen on the 17th of March and in the days and weeks after the election:
- If Bibi defies the polls and the Likud comes out a clear winner, which is with many more seats than its nearest rival, then that obviously is that. But according to the current polls, that is unlikely.
- If Naftali Bennett’s party (Jewish Home) does very well, then as it is the only Jewish based party that cannot go with Labor without going back on its policies, Bibi will be the best placed to form a government. How Bennett’s party polls will be, in my view, a key factor to who will ultimately be Prime Minister.
- If the final tally sees Likud and Labor with a similar number of seats, and if Bennett performs only as well as a number of other parties, then the role of the President may well be decisive.
In 2009, Tzipi Livni’s then Kadima party got 1 more seat than Bibi/Likud and yet the “left wing” President Peres invited Bibi to form a government, as is the President’s prerogative. This seemed odd to some, but should not have.
Now we have the “right wing” President Ruby Rivlin, a person whose presidency Bibi tried to block and who it can be said, does not enjoy good relations with Bibi or Sara (Bibi’s wife and a key player), who will feel far from obligated to giving Bibi first run at forming a new government if an alternative looks even mildly feasible.
This election was called approximately half way into the government’s term.
No-one can really tell you why, other than for political self interest.
Let’s hope that once the dust settles, Israel will have a government led by whoever it turns out to be – and it must be said that Bibi looks the most likely but not by all means a certainty, not at all – and that we can return to dealing with the real issues that Israel faces on so many fronts.
Chag Purim Sameach,