Israeli elections week in review

As the Zionist Union gains momentum, Likud shows signs of distress

In the final week of the campaign, the Zionist Union began to widen the gap with Likud, gaining momentum ahead of Tuesday’s vote. Though polls vary slightly, the latest results show the Zionist Union maintains a 2-4 seat lead over Likud. (The same polls – the last permissible under Israeli campaign rules – also indicate the Joint Arab List may finish third, while Yisrael Beiteinu and Meretz are in danger of failing to pass the 3.25 percent threshold to make it into the next Knesset.)  According to a Walla!/TNS poll, 48 percent of Israelis consider Netanyahu the most suitable to serve as prime minister, while 28 percent prefer Labor chairman Isaac (“Bougie”) Herzog. On Thursday, Tzipi Livni, former justice minister and co-leader of the Zionist Union, said that though she “smelled hope in the air…It’s not over until it’s over.”

The Likud campaign showed signs of distress this week. On Thursday Haaretz reported that senior Likud officials now consider the campaign to be a failure, even though they still expect they might win, and are prepared to blame Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu if the party has a poor showing. Earlier in the week, a senior Likud official told Haaretz that “Something isn’t going the way it should. Netanyahu’s speech to Congress last week should have created a turning point for us and strengthened Likud in the polls. It’s clear that we didn’t achieve the desired outcome.” 

Netanyahu gave a series of interviews this week in which he cautioned that a Likud victory is not guaranteed. A new Likud commercial warned voters that “it’s us or the left”, warning that if Netanyahu does not receive a mandate to form the next government, the right will be in the opposition.

In several interviews this week, Netanyahu warned of “a worldwide effort to topple Likud.” Defense Minister Moshe (“Bogie”) Ya’alon and Minister of Strategic and Intelligence Affairs Yuval Steinitz expressed similar sentiments, with Ya’alon accusing “English-speakers” of working to mobilize left-wing and Arab voters in an effort to oust Netanyahu.

Naftali Bennett, chairman of the Jewish Home Party, urged voters who may be disappointed with Netanyahu not abandon the right, counseling that if his party does not win enough seats, they too will be left out of the coalition.

The 2015 campaign enters the home stretch

President Reuven Rivlin announced on Thursday that he would prefer to see a new government appointed as soon as possible after Tuesday’s vote and that he intends to begin consultations with party leaders immediately. Earlier in the week, Rivlin said that if neither side obtains a majority of seats, he would call on Netanyahu and Herzog to form a national unity government that would focus primarily on electoral reform.

Facing concerns about not meeting the electoral threshold, Meretz campaigned for its survival this week with a new slogan: “We must not lose Meretz. It depends on you alone.”

The Zionist Union released a new ad urging voters not to repeat their calculations in the 2013 elections: “You voted for Yair [Lapid] last time, you got Bibi. And then the government fell.” Those who want a change, the commercial urged, should vote for the Herzog-Livni ticket.

Former President Shimon Peres endorsed Herzog on Thursday.  In response, Likud issued a statement saying that “Only a vote for a large Likud and closing the gap between Likud and the Zionist Camp will prevent the establishment of a government of concessions and retreat that will allow a second terror state to be formed in the heart of Israel.”

Shas Chairman Aryeh Deri said that while he does not rule out the possibility of a Herzog-led government, he “wouldn’t sit in a narrow left-wing government.” Emphasizing Shas’s natural partnership with Likud, Deri said that it is unlikely that Likud will make the mistake of trying to form a government without Shas, adding that “We will make sure Bibi will be social Bibi.” In a blow to Eli Yishai’s Yachad Party, two sons of the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of Shas, signed a public letter this week expressing their support for Deri.

United Torah Judaism’s head Yaacov Litzman said the party would be open to sitting in a coalition with Meretz, but not with Yesh Atid.

Sources inside the Likud estimate that after Tuesday’s vote, Kulanu’s founder and chairman Moshe Kahlon will recommend Herzog, if he is offered the finance portfolio, though Kahlon maintains that he will not decide on his recommendation before the elections.

Foreign Policy

Following reports that Netanyahu had offered significant concessions to the Palestinians during secret negotiations held in 2013, Netanyahu declared on Sunday that in light of regional chaos, his 2009 Bar-Ilan speech, in which he expressed support for a “demilitarized Palestinian state” is “no longer relevant.” In a Jerusalem Post interview, Netanyahu issued a scathing critique of the dangers of a Herzog-Livni victory, claiming that when it comes to dealing with the Palestinians, Iran, and standing up to the U.S., they exude “zero leadership.”

Responding to Netanyahu’s comments in her own Jerusalem Post interview, Livni said the day after she is elected, “the diplomatic tsunami will stop.”

Last Sunday the Zionist Union unveiled its platform, which set three top priorities for Herzog’s first 100 days in office (should he form the next government), including making “every effort to present our (peace) initiative to the Arab League.”

According to February’s Peace Index poll, 64 percent of respondents believe that the peace process will not advance, regardless of who forms the next government. Additionally, 49 percent of Jewish Israelis and 20 percent of Israeli Arabs believe that a Herzog-Livni led government will have a better relationship with the U.S. than Netanyahu.

Speaking to Channel 10 News on Thursday, Herzog said that although in 2000, he supported the Clinton Parameters — a U.S. proposal that called for Jerusalem to be divided — he now believes that “times had changed” and in any future peace deal with the Palestinians, “Jerusalem must remain united as Israel’s capital. Period.” 

Other campaign news

The Associated Press reported on Monday that a “minor revolution is underway in Israel” because while the number of female Knesset members is unlikely to rise, the number of women holding senior positions in government likely will.

In a final media blitz on Thursday, Netanyahu acknowledged that his government “had not done enough” to address the housing crisis and pledged, “It is my personal mission and I will focus on it in my next term in office.”

On Friday, the Silent Majority movement will distribute 500,000 free copies of Israel Machar (Israel Tomorrow), a satirical publication modeled on Israel Hayom, the free newspaper that is funded by Netanyahu supporter Sheldon Adelson and widely distributed in Israel. The 8-page satire depicts the morning after the election, imagining a Netanyahu defeat.