Despite the fact that no formal announcement has been made, the prevalent
assessment in political corridors is that a general election in Israel will be
held by October 2012. The primaries that have been scheduled by the Likud and
Kadima, as well as Yair Lapid’s decision to enter the political arena, have
contributed to that sense of momentum.
Figures from within the Prime
Minister’s Office, moreover, reportedly shared with journalists a number of
weeks ago that Netanyahu would prefer to seek reelection before a second-term
Barack Obama was potentially seated in the White House.
On the assumption
that elections indeed will be held by October, Netanyahu is likely to try to
utilize three important events that appear on his calendar in the next few
months to build a campaign that will cast him as a pragmatic centrist. In
current polls, the right-wing bloc still wins a majority of the seats in
Knesset, which would almost assure Netanyahu’s reelection as prime minister.
However, that majority is slim, one that an energized Kadima and Lapid’s
campaign could upend.
As such, in the balance Netanyahu will be less
concerned with alienating voters by not being “right-wing enough.” Netanyahu
knows that even if voters who once voted for the Likud gravitate to parties
further to the Right, he is still likely to be prime minister because they will
continue to vote for a party within his bloc. Rather, Netanyahu’s focus will be
turned to preventing a different type of flight from the party – one-time Likud
voters who now might be inclined to cast ballots either for Kadima or
If enough of those voters gravitate away from the Likud to parties
outside the right-wing bloc, that could shift the balance between the blocs and
dash Netanyahu’s hopes of being reelected prime minister.
That being the
case, Netanyahu can be expected to build a campaign designed to appeal to the
undecided voters in the center, and not the right wing. As noted, he is
likely to try to utilize three upcoming events to do so.
The first is the
Likud primary, scheduled for January 31. Running against no one but the
far-right candidate Moshe Feiglin, this race will be the first step in
Netanyahu’s effort to cast himself as a centrist.
On the reasonable
assumption that Netanyahu does defeat Feiglin, his renewed mandate from the
Likud will provided him with the political clout needed to deal with two other
issues on the horizon and leverage them to his benefit.
The first is
Migron. The state has made a commitment to the High Court of Justice to remove
the unauthorized settlement outpost by April. As opposed to some of the other
outposts that have been removed by the state in the past few weeks, Migron is
large, being home to some 50 families, and is well-established, with at least
some permanent structures on the ground.
Removing Migron is likely to
anger members of his faction and coalition, to understate matters, and might
even precipitate a no-confidence motion or other measures that would dissolve
the government and lead to early elections. At the same time, however, such a
step could be utilized by Netanyahu to signal to the deliberating voters in the
center that he is serious about upholding the rule of law and about reaching a
territorial compromise, a necessary component of the two-state solution that he
publicly endorsed in his 2009 Bar Ilan speech.
A second and related issue
is the government’s commitment to the international Middle East Quartet to
submit a proposal for future borders and security arrangements in a final-status
arrangement with the Palestinians. Netanyahu has rejected the Palestinian
interpretation of the time frame, which would put the Quartet’s deadline at
January 26, just days before the Likud primary. Rather, Netanyahu has insisted
that Israel will present its proposal on security and borders only toward the
end of March.
Many columnists in the Israeli media, such as Ben Caspit in
this past Friday, have suggested that Netanyahu’s demand to push off the
submission date was nothing more than a transparent bid for
However, it would seem plausible that while Netanyahu might be
averse to suggesting far-reaching territorial concessions before competing in
the Likud primary, his situation will be vastly changed once he has been
reconfirmed as the party leader next week.
At that point, he will be
running for prime minister, and not for Likud chairman, and his campaign will be
designed to win as much support from the undecided voters in the center as
possible. A proposal on borders, while it is certain to outrage some members of
his party and coalition, would serve the purposes of Netanyahu, who will be
seeking broad public support when heading into elections.
If toppled by
the right wing over either Migron or his government’s proposal on Israel’s
future border, Netanyahu will be able to say to the undecided voters in the
center that, contrary to the image that some journalists have tried to paint of
him, he is both a man with plan and prepared to put his money where his mouth
A rift with the more extreme parts of the right wing over those
issues would serve Netanyahu’s purposes, allowing him to say to the public that
he has demonstrated that he is practical centrist who is prepared to take steps
to advance a political solution with the Palestinians, and not the hesitant
procrastinator that Caspit and others say he is.
If Netanyahu succeeds in
maintaining the majority currently enjoyed by the Likud and the right-wing bloc,
he is likely to be the next prime minister, provided the Likud remains the
largest party within that bloc. If, however, enough deliberating voters who cast
a ballot for the Likud in 2009 are persuaded to cast a ballot for Kadima or
Lapid in 2012, the right-wing bloc could lose its majority, ushering a very
different coalition into power.The writer is a veteran writer and news