Analysis: A rightward turn

Three polls released since the primary show even with Feiglin, Likud's lead over Kadima is increasing.

Moshe Feiglin 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozlimski)
Moshe Feiglin 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozlimski)
Three polls released since the Likud primary all point to an emerging trend: the Likud, even with Moshe Feiglin - maybe precisely because of Feiglin - is increasing its lead over Kadima. Kadima is slipping, even as Labor rises. According to an Israel Radio poll carried out two days after the Likud primary, were the elections held today, Likud would win 34-35 seats, Kadima 20-21, and Labor 14-15. More significantly, the right-wing bloc would win 69-70 seats, and the left-wing bloc 50-51. Were one only to read the papers, listen to the radio and watch the television, this trend would seem almost inexplicable, as the media have - ever since the Likud primary - waxed near-hysterical over the results, warning that the Likud has been hijacked by the extreme Right and that if we're not all careful, the country would be hijacked by the fanatics as well. But what the polls show - or at least what they are showing now - is that the specter of being hijacked by the Right is not any scarier to many in the country than a continuation of the country's current policies. Something has happened in the land since Kadima won the elections in 2006 - an ineffective war in south Lebanon left large swaths of northern Israel traumatized; the Kassam-riddled aftermath of Ariel Sharon's disengagement left large swaths of the South traumatized; and corruption among the Kadima leadership has left almost everyone else disgusted. And when there is that much trauma, that much disgust, it's going to come out somewhere - perhaps, as the polls are indicating, in a significant shift rightward. There is, in all this, no small amount of paradox. A country that is widely perceived as having little trust in its politicians seems to be believing what Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is saying when he talks about wanting to cede all of the Golan, half of Jerusalem, and the vast majority of the West Bank. They hear it, believe it, think that's what his party is really after, and - if the polls are any indication - want no part of it. Contrary to what some senior pundits in the country have argued, the upcoming elections - like all elections previously - will be over diplomatic/security issues, not economic ones. Likud is not polling at 34-35 seats because people like its policy on the security net for pensioners. Another seeming paradox is that a country that has indicated great faith in Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's integrity doesn't seem to believe her most recent pronouncements about the need for the IDF to take dramatic action to stop the Kassam rockets flying from Gaza. Indeed, even as she has stepped up her pronouncements about a need for a more activist policy in Gaza, Kadima's Knesset-seat polling numbers have dropped from the mid to the low twenties, while Labor's fortunes have risen from high single digits to 14-15. Why? Because the now rhetorically very-hawkish-on-Gaza Livni is the same Livni who has been in an extremely prominent position in the government over the last few years, and who seems to be having trouble convincing the country that she is not at least partly responsible for the current state of affairs. Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak's public sparring over Gaza this week provided a peep-hole into how they see the electorate, and where they think they might be able to attract voters. Livni's give-em-hell-in-Gaza position seems based on the assumption that there are a lot of folks out there deliberating between Likud and Kadima, and if she would just take up a right-wing posture herself, she could lure them into her camp. Her comments Thursday about Israeli Arabs finding their national solution elsewhere is just another example of this posturing. The polls, however, indicate that this approach isn't working. Barak, on the other hand, realizes that he is not going to win over many Likud voters disgruntled by the party's primary results. As a result, he has no need to be hawkier-than-thou. Barak's primary concern at this point is to keep his own base from hemorrhaging to the left, from deserting him in favor of the newly reconstituted Meretz. Both his decision last week to evacuate the house in Hebron and his very restrained comments on Gaza seem tailor-made to give those in his camp a reason to stay with him. He's not vying for Livni over Likud voters, but rather with Meretz over left-leaning ones. And, indeed, in Thursday's Israel Radio poll, while Labor rose, Meretz - which had over the last few weeks been riding a small wave of momentum - fell back. Mistaken are those who believe the upcoming elections are going to hinge on personalities, be they Netanyahu, Feiglin or Livni. These elections are about what has gone on here since the onset of the second Palestinian intifada in September 2000, and - even more so - since the completion of disengagement from Gaza in 2005. And if the polls hold true, what the elections are likely to reflect is a significant change in the attitudes of a nation that to a large extent feels mugged by reality, and has gone from faith in the Oslo process to deep, deep skepticism in the Annapolis one.