We are at the height of uncertainty. None of the parties have selected their ranked lists of candidates, a potential rival of Benyamin Netanyahu is still pondering whether to make the race within Likud, and we do not know the full complement of parties and personalities that will align for the sake of political advantage.

 
The result is a surplus of commentary, with some of the principals and other pols wanting to become principals filling the media with their self-interested proclamations and analyses of what might happen.
 
Also in the wind is a reassertion by Barack Obama that he has not abandoned the peace process, and will devote a good part of his remaining two years for the sake of his two-state solution.
 
Commentators friendly to Netanyahu, writing in Israel Hayom (i.e., Bibipress), view Obama's announcement, delivered in a prominent appearance by the Jewish and Hebrew-fluent US Ambassador Dan Shapiro, as an improper effort to influence the Israeli election. They see it as Obama's stick in your eye retaliation for Bibi's overall meanness, and his involvement against Obama in the 2012 American election.
 
According to recent polls, Bibi is in trouble, and Obama's reiteration of his commitment to a two-state solution (what Israelis unfriendly to Obama are saying is Obama's commitment to Palestine) may nudge enough Israelis to make a difference and end Netanyahu's career.
 
Current polls are unreliable, given the fluidity of things at the beginning of a campaign. Moreover, they are media polls,  with a minimum number of respondents that may meet someone's definition of a random sample.
 
Yet they point in the same direction. Even if all are of doubtful reliability, they provide a reason for a tentative analysis.
 
What they are showing is that the newly announced alignment between Tsipi Livni and Labor leader Yitzhak Herzog will get about the same number of Knesset seats as Likud, or maybe a bit more than Likud.
 
That means two "major" parties, each a bit more than medium in size with 20-24 seats, may be able to anchor a coalition that achieves a majority of the Knesset.
 
If Netanyahu survives a Likud primary, he may be able to form a government along with Jewish Home, Kahlon, Lieberman, and the ultra-Orthodox parties. 
 
Moshe Kahlon has finally provided a name for his party. It translates as "All of us," and is better in Hebrew. Kolanu כלנו resembles Kahlon's name, כחלון.
 
Netanyahu's internal maneuvering among Likud's dues paying members has proved successful, and indicates that he should not be counted out.
 
He won two thirds of a vote by party members endorsing his proposal to move forward the party primary from mid- to early January. This should work against his best known opponent, Gideon Saar, recruiting enough support to take the party leadership. It may induce Saar to end his dithering and decide against entering the competition.
 
Labor might also form a coalition along with Kahlon, Lieberman, Lapid, and Meretz, with the Arab parties sitting on the sidelines. They might vote against a Likud-led coalition but not against an Labor-led coalition.
 
Neither coalition would be especially harmonious, and could mean another period of infighting and minimum accomplishments.
 
The prime news on Wednesday evening was the joint announcement by Yitzhak Herzog and Tsipi Livni that they were joining together, against a banner that featured the slogans Defeat Bibi, Victory with Unity, and what might become the name of the new party, Zionist Camp.
 
The long speech of Herzog featured opposition to the extremism that currently reigns in Israel (i.e., Netanyahu), a return to the socialist values of Labor's tradition, and the victory of unity over political egoism. Livni's equally long speech featured the contrary history of their two families (right wing Livnis and left wing Herzogs), and their present harmony for the sake of overriding national values.
 
The couple expressed confidence in leading the next government, with Herzog being the prime minister for the first two years and Livni for the second two years, should the hypothetical government last that long.
 
Specifics were lacking in both speeches, and there was no boasting about the onset of a new peace initiative with the Palestinians.
 
Still to be tested is the agreement of the unity by Labor Party dues paying members, entitled to vote in a primary to rank  party candidates for the Knesset.
 
In the background was some high volume maneuvering by the Palestinians, claiming that the IDF had murdered their Minister for Prisoners. Still to be examined, or not examined, is whether the individual died as the result of a soldier's actions at a demonstration that, not unusually, moved over the boundaries from peaceful to something else, or whether he died of a heart attack or some other personal malfunction as a result of heightened excitement, a bit of pushing, and the influence of tear gas. 
 
Palestinians have declared the individual a martyr, demanded investigations by the UN, threatened an end to their cooperation with Israel on matters of security, and prepared for a high profile funeral likely to excite things further.
 
The Arab League, various Arab governments, the Turkish President and the US State Department have joined the chorus of accusations or expressions of concern and calling for a serious investigation, depending on each source's typical response to such things.
 
Enthusiasts should not expect a breakthrough toward peace from the Livni-Herzog agreement. Not only would Abbas' recent record of incitement work against any easy accommodation, but several elements in what might be labeled a "center-left" coalition would not be inclined to give the Palestinians anything close to what they have been demanding. 
 
Tsipi Livni and some of her new colleagues in Labor might support a degree of cooperation, but neither Kahlon nor Lieberman are known as warm and cuddly toward the Palestinians. Lapid is difficult to predict, but he, too, has expressed reservations and suspicions about the motives and reliability of the Palestinians.
 
Moreover, this whole picture depends on Labor dues paying party members agreeing to what Livni demands. 
 
Commentators are describing the beginning of an intifada within Labor, with objections to giving Livni a sure place high on their ticket, and even greater opposition to her demand that two or more of her colleagues in "the Movement" be given high ranking places on the list. Every assured place high on the list means that one present or aspiring Labor MK will not make it into the next Knesset, and assures his or her opposition to the deal. Moreover, two of the people Livni wants to bring along with her are Labor has-beens, i.e., former leaders of the party who jumped  to other camps after losing its leadership.
 
MKs associated with Livni's current party who have not been mentioned as receiving sure places in the list of the new party may be asking themselves, "What about me?"
 
Opponents of the Livni deal are describing her as an opportunist who has changed parties four times in 10 years, from Likud to Kadima to her Movement, and now to Labor. Moreover, her accomplishments are not the stuff of widespread approval. Her management of the international agreement that ended the Second Lebanon War in 2006 included the assertion that it would restrict the rearming of Hizbollah, but the reality is Hizbollah's acquisition of tens of thousands of missiles and other weapons that threaten all areas of Israel. Her high profile emphasis on peace in the current Netanyahu government did not succeed in producing flexibility among her government colleagues or the Palestinians.
 
Remember, we're at the beginning of an election campaign. It is appropriate for wise and modest analysts to temper their enthusiasm for any prediction.
 


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