Voter fatigue has set in ahead of third round of elections

Reality check: The thrill of new elections is gone

CAN ONE of these scenarios actualize to prevent another round of elections? (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
CAN ONE of these scenarios actualize to prevent another round of elections?
This is, without doubt, the most boring election campaign in living memory. With three weeks to go before polling day, the stormy weather, coronavirus and recent upsurge in violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are the main stories capturing the nation’s attention. Election news hardly merits a mention.
Which is totally understandable. With next month’s elections the third round of voting in less than a year, voter fatigue has naturally set in. There are no new parties with new messages entering the fray, and the same late-middle-aged to elderly men (with the exception of the more youthful Naftali Bennett and Ayman Odeh) are the same poster boys heading the different parties.
No one is generating any excitement. The shocking fact that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is no longer just a suspect in a criminal investigation but has finally been accused of bribery, fraud and breach of trust and is awaiting trial has been met with a collective yawn.
Not even US President Donald Trump’s “Deal of the Century” has made an impact, except in a negative way on the Palestinian street. Trump, otherwise known as the gift that keeps giving as far as Netanyahu is concerned, did his utmost to help the prime minister by unveiling his one-sided, pro-Israel plan as close to the elections as possible.
Amazingly, though, Netanyahu has failed to capitalize on this potential voter bonanza, shooting himself in the foot along the way. He first annoyed his American patrons by briefing journalists straight after the White House ceremony that Israel had been given the green light to annex immediately the West Bank territories assigned to Israel under the US plan. And then, by backtracking on this rash declaration at an election rally last week, the prime minister went on to anger the hard-core settler faction that makes up a sizable portion of his political base.
Yamina leader Bennett best expressed the feelings on the Right: “This is the great diplomatic opportunity that has come our way [only once] in 50 years. But it’s an opportunity [that will] pass if not grasped and implemented. If it is postponed until after the election, it will never happen.” Indeed, a protest tent has already been set up outside the Prime Minister’s Residence to signal settler anger at Netanyahu’s raising of expectations only to then pour water on them.
Bennett is right about the fact that the Trump deal is dead in the water, but the real reason the plan won’t be implemented is that an Israeli unilateral annexation of Palestinian territory, even with Washington’s backing, would not bring peace and would lead only to a new wave of Palestinian violence and international ostracism of Israel.
BLUE AND WHITE leader Benny Gantz knows this, but he also understands that the Trump plan is hugely popular among Israeli Jewish voters. Indeed, from the center, center-right perspective in Israel, what’s not to like? Israel gets to keep almost all the settlements built over the past half century, Jerusalem remains united under Israel’s control, and the Palestinians are fobbed off with less land than in previous peace deals, and a nebulous promise of statehood some years down the line.
So the less Gantz talks about the deal, the better for him electorally. While in Washington, Gantz said all the right things, praising Trump as a “true and courageous friend” of Israel, promising to implement the plan after forming the next government, but crucially adding his intention to do so “in tandem with the other countries in our region.”
And since then, Gantz has remained silent. Unusually for the leader of the opposition, the best campaign tactic this time around is for him, and Blue and White, to do and say as little as possible.
After all, Blue and White already has the anti-Netanyahu vote sewn up. Spending time and money on hammering home the point that Netanyahu is corrupt and unfit to lead the country would only be preaching to the converted and a waste of precious resources.
With Labor, Gesher and Meretz having seen sense and combined into one faction for these elections, there is no risk of left-of-center votes going to waste. So Gantz and Blue and White have to concentrate all their attention on capturing two mandates from the secular soft-Right, which can be done only by a positive campaign, highlighting “boring” issues such as improving health services and more investment in the periphery, with only attacks on the growing influence of the religious sector providing any spicy mustard to the campaign.
In fact, the silence around these elections will be broken only when Avigdor Liberman has his final say. In the April 2019 elections, the Yisrael Beytenu chairman pledged to back Netanyahu as prime minister. Half a year later, in September, Liberman declared neutrality and said he would support only a liberal national-unity government with a rotating leadership.
This time around, will Liberman finally cause an upset by throwing his weight behind Gantz? If he does, these elections will instantaneously transform from boring to memorable.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.