Electionscape: Directionless Likud

These were Olmert's worst 2 weeks as acting PM, but even his worst polls still predict 40 MKs for Kadima.

anshel 88 (photo credit: )
anshel 88
(photo credit: )
These were Olmert's worst two weeks as acting prime minister but, despite shouldering most of the blame for Hamas's victory and the battle at Amona, even his worst polls still predict 40 MKs for Kadima. I'm beginning to run out of reasons to explain why over a third of the public remains captivated by a non-party - one without a clear manifesto and led by one of the country's least popular politicians. But rather than trying to understand how Kadima does it, let's try and explain why the Likud's most favorable polls over the last month have given it no more than 17 seats. The great defection to Kadima is already a distant memory; Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu has been sitting firmly in the driver's seat for almost two months, and even the new Knesset list is six weeks old - but the party has yet to fashion a coherent campaign. On Tuesday night, Netanyahu held a big rally in a hall up in Tiberias. The muddle was already evident from the different slogans all over the place. On the hoardings outside, the motto from the leadership primaries read "The Likud is renewing" (it sounds a bit better in Hebrew, but not much); above the podium, a banner displayed "Netanyahu - Because we haven't got another country"; on the tables, piles of stickers carried the new slogan "Strong against Hamas." Even Netanyahu's speech - in place of his usually well-polished performances - veered for 20 minutes from topic to topic, as if trying to gauge the public's reaction to each message. One wonders where the Likud campaign would be if Hamas hadn't won the Palestinian Legislative Council elections. And even that's a temporary one-issue message; they still need an all-purpose slogan. It comes as no surprise that Netanyahu still hasn't found a professional campaign manager. This week he tried to hire Motti Morel, who masterminded Amir Peretz's surprise victory, but was rebuffed. Morel's biggest clients are the trade unions, Netanyahu's bitter enemies, and he's not about to sacrifice his regular meal ticket for a one-election stand with Bibi. Netanyahu is still surrounded by a coterie of hangers-on who excel at giving him bad advice and keeping professional advisors out. Most of the party leadership has already given up and are sitting the elections out. But the Likud has an even bigger problem than the lack of a campaign. In previous elections, they had one main rival, Labor. The rest of the right-wing and religious parties were benign satellites. This time, Netanyahu is fighting bitter battles on all fronts. Centrist Kadima has already taken over half of the Likud's voters. Strongman Avigdor Lieberman's Israel Beiteinu is making inroads into the Russian electorate, which in 2003 gave its vote to the Likud. Shas is once again being heralded as the party of the poor, and nothing Netanyahu can say will obscure the memory of his benefit cuts as finance minister. Finally, the new joint NRP-National Union List will carry the religious right-wing vote. Netanyahu had the right idea when he tried to woo NRP himself a couple of weeks ago, but it came much too late. The Likud has never been so discredited. Under attack from right, left and center, Netanyahu has yet to deliver a message effective enough to lasso the voters back in from the directions in which they dispersed. Even if voters begin leaving Kadima in the coming weeks, it's hard to believe they'll return to the Likud.