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(photo credit: )
A month to go and it seems that the two main battles of the campaign are all but decided. Amir Peretz's bid for legitimacy as a national leader has failed and no one, not even in his own party, is considering him as a potential prime minister.
The other battle, between Likud and Kadima, has turned into a one-sided romp to victory for Kadima and a fight for the Likud's survival as a major party. There is no trend in the polls suggesting anything else; even the fact that Kadima has lost four or five Knesset seats over the last month according to most polls doesn't change anything. Those seats haven't gone to Labor or Likud. The only remaining battle is over the composition of the coalition - which parties will join the Olmert government - and here the game is still wide open.
The assumption up to now has been that Kadima will have to make a choice between the two former dominant parties. Leaders in Likud and Labor are suddenly worried that not only are they going to each have less than 20 seats, but that both might be banished to the wilderness of opposition for the next four years. This could be a masterstroke. If Olmert manages to achieve a coalition without Labor and Likud, he will have rendered the opposition powerless. Amir Peretz and Binyamin Netanyahu have no common ground from which to launch anti-Kadima offensives.
In order to form such a coalition, Kadima will need partners with at least 20 seats of their own. The natural candidates are of course the ultra-Orthodox parties, but they probably won't be enough on their own. And besides, Olmert remembers the fractious coalition he formed with the haredi parties in Jerusalem's City Hall all too well. This time around, he wants another secular party inside, for balance.
This is where Avigdor Lieberman's Israel Beiteinu comes in. Lieberman could well turn out to be the dark horse in this race. His party has kept a relatively low profile until now, working mainly in the Russian community. Now they are gradually stepping up their campaign among the general population. The party's strategists and Lieberman himself realize that many, especially in the media, are still stuck on the image of Lieberman as a threatening, foreign tyrant.
"We don't want to frighten anyone," explained one of the party's activists this week, "we will continue rising in the polls slowly but surely, and suddenly people will find out that we're a large party." Some of this week's polls are already showing such a trend, with Israel Beiteinu showing eight MKs in one and as much as 10 in an other. Lieberman didn't permit himself any jubilation at the survey results, only a small smile of satisfaction and the promise that the final results would be even higher.
He has a clear goal, and it isn't the opposition benches. "A political party should always strive to be in government, we are not a protest movement," he proclaims, and the meaning is clear. He wants to be a major player in the next government. And it doesn't matter that he is obviously to the right of Kadima's leadership and was even fired by Ariel Sharon a year and a half ago because of his opposition to the disengagement. "I have already sat in the same government with both Olmert and Peres," he says, "I rule no one out."
The way things are beginning to look in the polls, he could end up as the ideal partner for Olmert.