Netanyahu poised for third term as PM


ANALYSIS:The result of Israel’s lacklustre election campaign is a foregone conclusion

Israelis go to the polls tomorrow and are almost certain to elect incumbent Binyamin Netanyahu for a third term as prime minister at the head of a coalition again dominated by right-wing and religious parties.

The last polls allowed before the election were published on Friday and showed Mr Netanyahu’s Likud Beiteinu emerging as by far the largest party, with 32 seats in the next Knesset parliament, significantly ahead of nearest rivals, Labor, predicted to win 17 seats.

Just as significant in Israel, where all governments have been coalitions, is the distribution between the blocs. The right-wing and religious parties’ combined total was 63 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, but centrist parties Kadima and There is a Future are also likely to accept invitations from Mr Netanyahu to join the government. Tzipi Livni is also a possibility but Mr Netanyahu made it clear she would not be given any diplomatic role.

President Shimon Peres will call upon the head of one of the parties, almost certainly Mr Netanyahu, to form the next government after hearing recommendations from leaders of all the parties that win seats in tomorrow’s vote.

No serious discussion

Almost absent from the campaign was any serious discussion on how to make peace with the Palestinians.

The legacy of suicide bombings, the Hamas takeover in Gaza, rocket fire from Lebanon and Gaza into Israel – including recent projectiles fired towards Tel Aviv and Jerusalem – the rise of militant Islam in the region, the threat of a nuclear Iran and the likelihood of a Hamas takeover in the West Bank have combined to put the possibility of further territorial concessions by Israel on the back burner. The same legacy largely explains the predominance of the right.

The current campaign was one of the most lacklustre in Israeli history, largely because it was a foregone conclusion that Mr Netanyahu would emerge victorious. The one event that could have changed this failed to materialise.

The attempts to persuade former prime minister Ehud Olmert, or even popular president Peres, to lead a centre-left bloc failed.

The centre-left remained fractured and weak, with each party highlighting a different issue after the leaders of the three main parties failed to agree to unite to fight the right.

Shelly Yachimovich of Labor tried unsuccessfully to build on the momentum of the huge social protest movement that swept Israel last summer.

Yair Lapid, a young and charismatic former TV anchor, head of the new There is a Future, campaigned with the slogan “Where’s the money gone?”, claiming the middle class was funding the ultra-Orthodox and the settlers.

Former foreign minister Ms Livni, who quit to form her own party after losing the Kadima leadership primaries, stressed the need to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians.

If the centre-left devoted most of its energy to attacking itself, the battle within the right-wing bloc was even more pronounced. Each election campaign usually throws up a surprise and this time Naftali Bennett, the 40-year-old charismatic leader of Jewish Home, took centre stage.


The high-tech multimillionaire who ran Mr Netanyahu’s office until he fell out with his boss took over the leadership of the moribund National Religious Party and managed to attract the support of large numbers of young, secular Israelis who do not necessarily agree with his far-right politics, which include a plan for Israel to annex 60 per cent of the West Bank.

Most of his support came at the expense of Likud Beiteinu, which responded with a campaign highlighting the extremist elements in Jewish Home, but also with plans to build extensively in Jewish settlements, in an effort to woo the right-wing vote.

However, even Mr Bennett’s comment in a TV interview that he personally would not be able to follow an army order to evict settlers from their homes failed to stem the influx of voters from the Likud.

Likud Beiteinu lost about 10 votes during the course of the campaign: Jewish Home rose from 7 to 14, establishing itself as Israel’s third-largest party and a natural coalition partner in the next government.