Israeli voters appear ready to renew the lease of Benyamin Netanyahu on the Prime Minister''s Office.
A poll reported in Ha''aretz shows a near majority (48 percent) favoring him as Prime Minister. The aggregate support of his three nearest competitors do not match him: 15 percent prefer Shelli Yehemovich of Labor, 9 percent Avigdor Lieberman of Israel our Home, and 6 percent Shaul Mofaz of Kadima.
Ma''ariv''s poll shows Likud winning 31 seats in the Knesset, Labor 18, Kadima 11, and the new party of Yair Lapid also 11.
American Jews and my Israeli friends who are embarrassed by Bibi''s statements, actions, or inactions about Iran, settlements, domestic social policy, and Palestinians may have to accustom themselves to another few years of the same.
With Netanyahu''s future assured, the question for some is which other party to support in order to influence the coalition he will create.
We are seeing in the run-up to the election (likely to be scheduled for September 4) a repeat of a pattern going back to 1977. While Likud and Labor have jostled for leadership of a coalition during most of that time (none ever winning an absolute majority of the Knesset), a series of political entrepreneurs have created what they typically label a third force, or centrist party, hoping to gain a place in the Knesset and becoming an important force in shaping coalition policy.
Stars have risen, shined brightly for the dissatisfied, and fallen. Individuals at the head of new parties have succumbed to the temptations to join a coalition in a minor role and thus lost their luster with voters looking for a new alternative, or have fallen victim to the scurrilous behavior of political nobodies who somehow got a place on the new party ticket, and then behaved badly once in office.
First up was ד"ש (Democratic Movement for Change), led by former commanding general of the IDF and well known archaeologist Yigael Yadin. The party won 15 seats in the election of 1977, Yadin accepted Menachem Begin''s offer to join the coalition as Deputy Prime Minister and head of a major venture to renew poor neighborhoods. The party disintegrated less than a year later over its MKs'' inability to agree on issues of policy
One of the results of the split in the Democratic Movement for Change was שינוי (Change) a party that went from tiny after the elections of 1981, 1984, and 1988 (2-3 seats), disappeared into Meretz over the next two elections, but came back with a refurbished anti-religious platform and won 6 seats in the election of 1999 and then 15 seats in the election of 2003. Then it crumbled when one of its Knesset Members was found to have hired a private investigator to dig up dirty stuff about another of its Knesset Members, and when the party leader, Yosef Lapid, waffled about participating in a coalition with religious parties, and was eventually ousted by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for anti-coalition behavior.
The label of Israel''s most bizarre meteortic third party belongs to גיל-גמלאים (Age-Pensioners). A perennial also-ran, the party seemed destined for the same fate in the run-up to the 2006 election. However, it somehow became the darling of Israelis (most of whom well before the age of pension) looking for an alternative to the major parties. It won 7 seats, and its leader (80 year old Rafi Eitan with a distinguished background in intelligence and business, involved with the capture of Adolf Eichmann and the management of Jonathan Pollard) was given the title of Minister of Pensioner Affairs but virtually no functions, staff, or budget. Then one of the 70 year old unknowns who entered the Knesset on the basis of the party''s unexpected victory found himself the subject of a sexual harrassment charge by a party activist said to be "over 50." According to her story, supported by a polygraph test,
"during a campaign meeting at his home . . . (the MK) took her on a tour of the house. When they reached the bedroom, he committed indecent acts and threw her on the bed, but she escaped and fled the house."
The most successful third party, and the one that was able to select a prime minister, is Kadima (Forward). It benefited from being formed by a sitting prime minister, Ariel Sharon, who split with Likud on the issue of disengagement from Gaza. It went on to win 29 seats in the election of 2006 when Ehud Olmert became party leader after Sharon''s disabling stroke. Olmert served as prime minister until forced to resign due to multiple charges of personal corruption. The party also emerged as the most successful of the parties in the election of 2009, but the new leader, Tzipi Livni, proved unable to accept the politics necessary to create a coalition or to join the government formed by Netanyahu. The party declined during her role as leader of the Knesset opposition. Livni lost a party primary to Shaul Mofaz by a wide margin (65-35 percentages of those voting), and after a month sulkiing at home resigned from the Knesset.
From its beginning, Israeli critics accused Kadima of not having a distinctive platform that provided a clear alternative to those of Likud or Labor. In that context, it is ironic that the party fell at least partly on account of Livni''s repeated insistence on the purity of her principles, which she refused to compromise by joining with obvious coalition partners.
The current darling of disatisfied Israelis is Yair Lapid (son of the late Yosef), a successful and handsome media personality who quit a prominent role in television news to create a party he calls יש עתיד (There is a future). So far his proclamations of principle have encountered commentators'' yawns or criticism. One of his planks claims to represent Israel''s Middle Class, while several parties already say they are doing that. Another plank claims to be a creative way of dealing with military exemptions for the ultra-Orthodox, by giving them a blanket exemption of another five years, after which young ultra-Orthodox men must serve in the military or national service. Critics claim that this provides Lapid with a nice way to say he is reigning in the ultra-Orthodox while sitting with their parties in a coalition, and producing a reform claiming eventual equity but likely to be extended after its initial five year period of being "the end of examptions."
The once-dominant Labor Party may have come back from a bad patch. It last selected a prime minister (Ehud Barak) after the election of 1999, when it won 26 seats under the name of ישראל אחת (One Israel). Labor then selected two left-of-center leaders in succession who led them to 19 seats in the election of 2003 (Amram Mitzna) and again 19 seats in the election of 2006 (Amir Peretz). The centrist Barak won back the leadership, but the party dropped to 13 seats in the election of 2009, and then further to 8 seats after Barak led five colleagues out of what he called a leftist aggregate to create the party he calls עצמאות (independence). Current polls show that Barak''s party may not clear the minimum necessary to elect any Knesset members, while Labor may be refurbishing itself to become again one of Israel''s two largest parties.
Completing Israel''s likely party lineup will be the leftist Meretz, currently languishing with 3 seats, Sepherdi and Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox parties now with a feisty and internally divided total of 16 seats, an Orthodox, Religious Zionists, and right of center settler aggregation of several parties currently with 7 seats, the right of center and largely Russian-speaking Israel our Home with 15 seats, but worried about the prospect of an indictment for economic wrong-doing against its iconic leader, Avigdor Lieberman.
All of this may confirm the analysis of Jewish comity that begins with the question, why do two Jews require three synagogues?
It is common to say that Arabs are learning democracy alongside of us. The next Knesset is again likely to have three largely Arab parties with 9-11 seats,