There is a near balance in the run-up to the Israeli election.

Likud and Labor have been trading places one or two Knesset seats in the lead, and often tied in the various media polls, all of them with samples on the border of being unreliable. Labor is still going by the name Zionist Union/Zionist Camp, but is showing signs of abandoning the idea that Herzog and Livni would rotate in the Prime Minister's position, on the assumption that the party is able to form a government.

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Likud leads in assessments of which would have the easiest task of forming a government. The obvious partners of Likud--Jewish Home, Yisrael Beitenu (Lieberman), Kahlon and the ultra-Orthodox--would have in the latest tallies 67 seats. However, Kahlon's contribution of 8 seats is problematic.


Labor can currently put together a combine of itself, Thre is a Future (Lapid), Meretz, and the combined Arab list either supporting from the outside or actually joining the government (a topic of speculation), with 53 Knesset seats.

If Kahlon trades his votes for a good seat at the ministerial table, Labor would get the government with the support of 61 MKs.

Some possibilities could tip things one way or the other. Both Lieberman and Meretz are down there on the border of not getting the minimum number of seats to enter the Knesset. Insofar as Lieberman was prominent in promoting an increase in the required minimum, at least partly to squeeze out Arab parties, one of the favorite topics of Israeli cynics is that his tactic moved the Arabs to coalesce, become a force capable of tilting the government away from the right, while Lieberman--due to later developing scandals that have put several of his senior party colleagues in the dust bin and may yet come to his door--may end up squawking about the government from outside the Knesset.

There are several hot issues that have the potential of helping or hurting Likud in its efforts to move ahead of Labor.

One is Sara's management of the Prime Minister's household, or the joint Bibi and Sara management, depending on how this plays. The police have moved into the issue with interviews of the man who used to be the household manager, is suing the Netanyahus for ill treatment, has been blamed by them for the faults in management described by the State Comptroller, and in turn has accused them again of cruelty along with distorting the facts.

It will become the task of the Attorney General/State Prosecutor to decide whether to move forward with a police investigation of the Netanyahus, and the opening of a criminal case.

Left of center commentators are salivating over the prospect that this will occur within days and affect the election. However, other commentators are noting that the criminality, if found, is marginal at best. You might think of a high official pulled over for driving a bit over the speed limit.

On matters of this kind, the Attorney General/State Prosecutor has been known to dither for months and even years about moving forward with a criminal case, especially when the subject is a ranking government official.

Moreover, the parties who could exploit the State Comptroller's report have been quiet. Labor and Lapid have shied away from attacking Sara Netanyahu, seemingly out of concern that it might backfire among marginal voters who sense that it is she and not the Prime Minister who is at the heart of the household problems, and that it isn't fair to pile onto a politician's wife no matter how much she may deserve it.

So far the religious parties (Jewish Home and the ultra-Orthodox) have not made an issue of a Jew called to work on the Sabbath or Yom Kippur. That may be due to doubts about the accuracy of the report, as well as doubts about the role of the Prime Minister. Also among the maybes are those parties' calculations about Netanyahu getting the nod from the President, and wanting the best deal possible in the creation of the government, the assignment of choice jobs, and budget allocations for their favorite programs.

If household management might hurt the Prime Minister, his trip to Washington seems likely to help him.

Polls among Israelis and Americans (sampling Jews or the entire population) vary greatly. They show majorities or large pluralities in favor or against the speech, supporting or opposing White House efforts against the speech, as well as showing Netanyahu or Obama scoring higher in the evaluation of those polled.

In Israel, the speech may figure along with recent attacks on Jews in Europe and commentary about a spread of anti-Semitism to strengthen support for Netanyahu among those who view him as the best spokesman for Israeli national interests, as well as for Jews' welfare in a hostile world.

There are prominent Diaspora Jews demanding that Netanyahu stay out of their community affairs, but those critics do not vote in Israeli elections.

Supporters see signs of the speech pushing the American administration in the desired direction, even while there are other signs that the White House/State Department/Democratic loyalists continue to maneuver against the Prime Minister. First there was an announcement that senior Administration personnel will boycott the AIPAC convention by way of punishing Netanyahu, Israel, and Bibi's American Jewish supporters. Then there was an announcement that there is no such intention. The Secretary of State has been talking about Iran's need to come forward with appropriate statements and behavior, that there will be no extension of the talks beyond their June deadline, and that the United States may have to abandon the diplomatic effort.

The State Comptroller is about to issue another report that may affect the election. This one is about housing. Politicians are already accusing one another of responsibility for the details leaked or expected. Lapid is saying it's all Bibi's fault; Bibi's people are saying that Lapid's term as Finance Minister was a national disaster for housing and other issues, and that the country's housing shortage is traced back to Ehud Olmert.

It won't be over with the March 17th balloting and vote counts. There may not be an obvious choice for the President to select the party leader with the best chance of forming a government. He has two weeks to decide. Then whoever gets the nod will have to sort through demands from his own party and potential partners about who gets what ministries and other goodies, as well as the demands of one and all about the policy commitments to be agreed upon. Those commitments have the negligible weight of campaign promises, but they can do their part in delaying the formal presentation of a government to the Knesset for its approval. The law allows up to 42 days for this to happen, assuming that the President's first choice succeeds in forming a government

Chances are slim that it will be done by Pesach (this year beginning on April 3). Optimists are hoping it will be done by Shavuot (May 24).

Further into the future is the question of how stable will be the next government, and whether it will outlast its predecessor to get into the second half of its allotted four years.



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