Flood, Fire, Drought, Election. Opinion Piece – Jan. 2020.

Devastating drought and bush fires in Australia and extreme flooding in Israel.

credit: Ynet news.

On the political level regarding satisfaction/action assessments by the electorate, much centres on image and perception.

Just ask Prime Minister Scott Morrison for one.

We are fast approaching the third act of the continuing Israeli election process in this cycle that began around a year ago.

One thing hasn’t changed despite the first two non-results.

There are still only the same two front line competing candidates.

Israelis remain divided on whether to vote for Prime Minister Netanyahu the Statesman, or against Bibi the Man.

Image and perception – beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Certainly, little remains of the policy divides as the smaller parties merge and demerge, almost regardless of previous ideological positions, but with only one aim in mind – self-preservation – attempting to pass the 3.25% threshold needed to enter the next Knesset.

What factors may work for and against voters’ inclinations on the actual day?

1 – Security is Netanyahu’s biggest electoral weapon.

Here he is Prime Minister and Statesman Netanyahu.  If people focus on security, his vote improves.

Interestingly, it does not matter to his voting strength nearly as much as it would in any other country, whether people think Israel’s security situation is better or worse.  He benefits both ways.

If people believe the security situation is good, he gets the credit.

If Israel is perceived to be in a worse security situation and Israel seems more under threat, people look to his leadership to face down the dangers ahead.

After much drama, Naphtali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked have gone back to their September election strategy, joining with Rav Rafi Peretz’s Jewish Home and Bezalel Smotrich’s National Union for the coming election, under their September name of Yamina.

They will try to outflank Netanyahu on the right when it comes to security – and will aim to ‘keep Netanyahu honest’ when it comes to the Palestinians and Judaea & Samaria/West Bank (JSWB).

Winner – The re-emergence of Naphtali Bennett as undisputed leader of the parties to the right of Likud.

How fickle is politics!

Almost a year ago, Bennett’s party failed (narrowly) to pass the threshold whilst other parties to the right of Likud made it into the Knesset.  In September he ceded the leadership of Yamina to Ayelet Shaked.

Now he is back and stronger – and for the first time as head of virtually the whole block to Netanyahu’s right.

His short but prominent role as interim Defence Minister has raised his profile.  Moreover, his strong and decisive resistance to pressure including even from Netanyahu, to include the extremist Kahane followers into this merger (they were also left out in September), will gain him electoral strength and credibility.

(Possible) Danger – to Netanyahu in the post-election attempts at coalition building if Bennett may feel he has more options now, should this be translated to electoral strength in the election.

Loser – Rav Rafi Peretz and the National Religious party who are now but a small subset of the renewed Yamina.

2 – Socio-economic issues are not a plus for Netanyahu. But importantly, not a great minus either.

Netanyahu’s opponents have almost completely failed to either raise this as a defining issue or when they have, the Blue and White leadership have failed to impress the electorate of their own credentials in this field.

Blue and White are looked at overwhelmingly as representing the privileged middle class who have little or no experience of ‘real life’ as far as the lower socio-economic strata are concerned.

Gantz et al are seen as ‘smug intellectuals from Tel Aviv’.

It is instructive that despite Netanyahu’s perceived comfortable upper- class lifestyle of cigars and champagne, this has little negative effect on his electoral strength with the lower socio-economic strata in general.

In an attempt to avoid failing to pass the threshold and to try to capture this vote, the smaller parties to the left of Blue and White have brought about another not so comfortable party merger for March.

Labour, Meretz and Gesher will try to unite on socio economic issues – whilst ignoring other ideological and Zionistic divides between them.

Meretz who dropped any reference to being a Zionist party from their platform in 2009, will cede the first 2 places in the merger to Amir Peretz from Labour and Orly Levy-Abecassis (a Zionist and security hawk, formerly of Avigdor Lieberman’s party).

Loser – Stav Shaffir, rising star of Labour until she left them in the September election for another party.  Shaffir will now miss out on being in the next Knesset as no party will give her a safe spot on their list.

Loser – the founding party of the State of Israel – Labour. Struggling to pass the threshold, ergo the merger, and looking for relevance and a Zionist vision that they can agree upon internally, let alone present to the electorate.

3 – Corruption. When the focus is on Bibi the Man, Netanyahu’s Achilles Heel is exposed.

Aside from Netanyahu’s die-hard supporters, this issue has only potential for electoral losses for Netanyahu and from within his own natural constituency.

Will security trump (pun intended) corruption or vice versa?

Danger – to Netanyahu.

Winner – No-one.

4 – President Trump

Whilst actively supporting Netanyahu in the April elections, Trump stayed out of the September one.
He’s back as a potential factor in this one.

Trump appeared to have developed a muddled policy and seemed to be walking away from the Middle East with the removal of American troops from Syria and the abandonment of the Kurds.

Whether by design or circumstance he has however now demonstrated a discernible and consistent policy and one in keeping with his election promise to the American people.

Firstly, doing as he said he would, by reducing or withdrawing American troops from the Middle East. Secondly, and at the same time, using air power, missiles and specialist in/out US forces to take out specific targets – such as ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and now the commander of the Iranian Quds force, Maj Gen Qasem Soleimani.

It is important to note that Trump has employed US military power, but only when US troops or citizens were either under attack or threatened.

A predictable policy and a reassertion of US determination and deterrence has evolved – at least when it comes to American lives.

Trump’s renewed pressure on Iran helps the statesman Netanyahu again demonstrate the benefits of his special relationship and Netanyahu’s success in focusing the major world superpower on Iran.

No-one knows exactly what is in the Trump peace plan. Rumours abound that he may release it before the election.

Judaea & Samaria/West Bank (JS/WB) settler housing construction is at its lowest point since Trump took office in 2017, dropping by a third (34%) in the first three quarters of this year as compared to the same period last year, according to data published last week by the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics.

The CBS says that construction began for 1,167 homes from January to September of this year, the lowest such number in at least five years.  In 2018 there were 1,772 settler housing starts for the same period.

At the same time, Israeli’s grip on at least Area C in JS/WB is somewhat tightening in other ways, by some extension of civilian laws to this area and the creation of more nature reserves.  But without more housing.

If Trump does release his plan before the elections and it is not seen to challenge Israel’s narrative regarding the security and land needs in Area C of the JS/WB – that would greatly boost Netanyahu.

And explains why Gantz – having been recently briefed on the plan by US representatives, is claiming that going public would be an interference in Israel’s election process.

Not because of what it may contain, one must remember that Gantz is almost in lock step with Netanyahu on JS/WB policy, but because of the boost it would give to Netanyahu’s re-election chances.

Finally, of course, any major security event within the next few weeks, will also serve to move the pendulum on the electorate’s view, weighing up the questions of corruption and security.

Dr. Ron Weiser AM is an Hon Life Member of the Zionist Federation of Australia Executive, and the Hon Life President of the Zionist Council of NSW

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