Bibi remains the leading choice to be prime minister, even though Likud has been losing ground.
Buji is below Bibi in polls asking preferences for Prime Minister, but Labor/Zionist Union has moved one or two seats ahead. However, its obvious partners are still below the obvious partners of Likud. Washington is the big question mark, that may put Likud into the lead and assure another Netanyahu government, or leave a complex outcome to the President's choice of who gets the first chance to form a government.
A video has gone viral with Diane Feinstein calling Bibi "arrogant" for claiming to represent the Jewish people in his Washington speeches.
What politician is not arrogant? That's inherent in the profession. The essence of any campaign is "I should be your leader," or "I should be your representative." If those themes do not reflect arrogance, I've lost my status an an English speaker.
Feinstein is no less arrogant than Bibi by going public with the assertion that Netanyahu does not represent her.
Whoever President Rivlin decides should get the first chance is likely to make a government, even if it is Labor/Zionist Union cobbling something together on the basis of Arab support--perhaps without accepting seats at the table--along with built in tensions between Lapid, Kahlon, and Meretz.
With the betting still on Bibi, what does he offer?
Writing from the pre-speech time frame, before the inevitable praises and curses of those for and against, his prime plus is a willingness the tell the Americans like it is. He's expressing the widespread Israeli opposition to Obama's likely deal with Iran, against the background of Iran's support for terror and its frequent threats against Israel. While there is great disagreement here about the appropriateness of the Congressional speech, there is wide agreement that Iran is Israel's prime threat.
The cartoonist of Ha'aretz, Israel's left-of-center and usually doubtful about Bibi, reflects the national mood. It has Bibi asking Kerry, "How would you respond if they break through to a bomb?" and Kerry responding "We'll invite you to speak to Congress."
Bibi has been moving to the right on a key domestic issue. He's snuggling up the ultra-Orthodox, who won't abandon their rabbis to vote Likud. Most likely he is trying to cement a link that will lead the ultra-Orthodox to endorse Likud as the government-making party. He is promising to undo the reforms that put pressure on Yeshiva students to go into the IDF or National Service, and then to work.
That won't help him with Jewish Home voters. The Orthodox and the ultra-Orthodox are more antagonistic to one another than either are with respect to secular Jews. The Orthodox puts service in the IDF on a high pedestal along with settlements and other expressions of Land of Israel patriotism. The ultra-Orthodox shun those, except for settlements built for them.
Bibi's snuggling with the ultra-Orthodox may cost Likud votes.
Unless, that is, the Likud voters know him well enough to conclude that he is promising more than he will deliver to the ultra-Orthodox. He's known for promises more extreme than his delivery.
That, in a peculiar way, is among his strengths. Moderate in action while threatening enemies or promising to potential supporters hyperbolically.
Bibi's problem is that it takes a high degree of sophistication to see false promises as a reason for supporting him, and there may be few Israelis inclined to think that way.
When all is said and done, his future appears to rely on that Washington speech.
That does not depend on his producing a change in US policy toward Iran. What counts in this context, i.e., Israel rather than the US, is whether enough Israelis are moved by the speech and its interpretation by commentators to see Netanyahu as the best hope for national security.
Also in the air, seemingly less important, but perhaps capable of affecting some voters are Sara, a housing problem, layoffs at an industry in southern Israel that can stimulate a greater level of anti-Bibiism by the Labor Federation, and other latent issues having to do with people being tired of Bibi and wanting to give someone else a chance.
Yair Lapid has been enjoying an uptick of one or two Knesset seats in the polls. Prominent in his appeal may be not so much what he promises as his reputation of trying something new. This includes efforts to push Haredi young men into the army or National Service, trying to solve the housing problem by offering 0 % Value Added Tax to middle income first time home buyers, and a number of reforms associated with the #2 on his list who served as Minister of Education.
Critics say that none of these reforms were seen through to implementation, that Lapid caved in to the Haredim by watering down his IDF scheme to nearly nothing, that the 0 % Value Added Tax was pushed obsessively against the nearly uniform opposition of economists, and that the education reforms produced more disruption than accomplishment among teachers, pupils, and their parents. Nonetheless,Lapid and his colleagues tried, which serves him well in a context where many Israelis have come to view Netanyahu as a long serving Prime Minister who doesn't deliver what he promises.
Lapid's supporters are hoping for a pre-election jump, similar to what brought his party to 19 Knesset seats in the few days before the 2013 election. Currently There is a Future is polling in the range of 11-13 seats, and working against a big jump is the realization among previous supporters that Lapid promised a lot more than he was able to produce.
Housing has come to the fore with protesters setting up tents on one of Tel Aviv's scenic boulevards. It's an effort to repeat the famed protests of 2011 which demanded much and accomplished little. The current tents reflect a leftist effort to blame Bibi for the lack of new housing in desirable places for affordable prices. Ironically, a prominent article in the anti-Bibi Yedioth Ahronoth cites the risk reluctance of contractors as a factor in producing a limited a supply of new housing and high prices, that may be as important as anything government officials did or failed to do .
There's still a day or so to the responses about Washington, another couple of weeks to the election, then another month and one half or so in sorting through the options for a coalition.
There'll be lots of pondering in our immediate future.