Yishai: If operation expands, delay may be as much as a month; MKs say smaller parties hurt by Gaza op.
By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
Knesset members from across the political spectrum intensified speculation on Tuesday about whether the February 10 general election would have to be delayed due to Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip.
MKs from all the parties have been consulting in recent days and have come to the conclusion that it is still too early to publicly call for a delay.
But there seemed to be a consensus that if the operation continued beyond the middle of next week, a delay would have to be considered.
So far, the only MKs who have spoken openly in favor of postponing the balloting have been Pensioners Party chairman Rafi Eitan and former Pensioners MK Elhanan Glazer, who is running with the Tzomet Party.
However, many other MKs said privately that if large swaths of the South remained under fire, holding the election would be impossible.
"I think we won't have a choice but to delay the race unless [the operations] end very soon," one MK said. "But I can't speak about it on the record, because I don't want to look weak. Talking politics during a war is not politically correct. And I don't want to show a lack of confidence in the IDF or in myself."
MKs and party spokesmen seemed to agree that the ongoing escalation gave an advantage to Labor and Kadima, whose leaders are at the forefront of the decision-making, and the Likud, because party chairman Binyamin Netanyahu has made an effort to remain in the public eye.
They said the parties hurt most by the operation were the smaller and newer parties, and those focusing on a nonmilitary agenda. Such parties have been harmed by the media's complete focus on the war and the inability to run a political campaign when the country is under fire.
Netanyahu came out strongly against a delay when he told reporters in the South on Monday that he would see holding the election on time as an indication that Israel had won the war.
"Something very extreme would have to happen to delay the election," Netanyahu said. "It would be a victory for Hamas if they succeed in interfering with Israeli democracy."
Meretz MK Zehava Gal-On said it was unfair to parties like Meretz that due to the war, "the foreign minister, defense minister and opposition leader are always in the camera frame."
Meretz has lost seats to Labor in every poll taken since the operations in Gaza began.
A Shas spokesman said he was fighting an uphill battle to keep party chairman Eli Yishai in the public eye in what he called a "back-door campaign."
He said that had the party been in the opposition, the task would have been impossible. Shas had intended to embark on a negative campaign criticizing Likud's and Kadima's handling of the economy, but postponed it due to the fighting.
"If the operation intensifies, there will be no choice but to delay the election by at least a month," Yishai said in an interview with a haredi news service.
Officials in the Bayit Hayehudi Party admitted that they were in a tougher predicament because their party name was new and its list was only finalized last Sunday, the day after the war began.
"The war hasn't helped our effort to enter the public consciousness," a party official said. "We realize that's a big problem."
Meimad, which is running together with the Green Movement, is at a disadvantage on three fronts - it is small, the Green Movement is running for the first time, and the party focuses on the environment and not security.
But party officials expressed confidence that they would still enter the Knesset because of list leader Rabbi Michael Melchior's name and the importance of environmental issues.
"It is unethical to campaign during a war, but it is undemocratic not to allow the public to hear what the parties stand for before they vote," a party official said. "The focus on Gaza harms all the parties, because it takes away the public's right to make an informed decision. We just have to trust that the public is intelligent and still seeks a civilian agenda."
Asked why his party was not publicly calling for delaying the election, the official responded, "We don't want to be seen as whiners."
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