Long gone are the days when many of Israel's voters gave their enthusiastic support to one of the leading candidates at election time. Whether it was Menahem Begin in 1977 and 1981, Yitzhak Rabin in 1992, Binyamin Netanyahu in 1996, or Ehud Barak in 1999, many voters at the time seemed to have had unbounded faith in the ability of these leaders to lead the country into the future. As the present elections approached it looked like Ariel Sharon had achieved a similar stature in the minds of many voters. But now that he has left the political scene, none of the leading candidates enjoy that kind of support.
So what motivates the Israeli voter in the approaching elections? If it is not the personal qualities of party leaders as perceived by them, is it ideology? Hardly. There does not seem to be much of a difference on the main issues facing the country between the leading parties. After the Hamas victory in the recent Palestinian elections, every one of Israel's political parties seems to be equally confused as to what needs to be done next.
What then is the meaning of the reply given by Israelis in the almost daily polls regarding the party they would vote for if the elections were held today? Obviously it is a matter of faute de mieux. Without enthusiasm or conviction, lacking a better alternative, they say they would vote for this or that party. That tells you something regarding the reliability of these polls in predicting the actual election results. There may yet be a considerable difference between the polls and the final results.
There are two issues much talked about although not very meaningful that seem to have influenced the thinking of Israeli voters ever since the unilateral withdrawal and uprooting of the settlements in Gush Katif, the settlements south of Ashkelon, and northern Samaria - disengagement from the Palestinians, and assuring a Jewish majority within the borders of the State of Israel. At first sight these simple-minded concepts seem overpowering to almost all Jewish citizens of Israel. Put the Palestinians responsible for the campaign of terror against Israelis these past years out of sight and draw the country's borders, even if unilaterally, so these Palestinians will not be included within them. Except for the National Union party, which identifies these slogans with the recent uprooting of Jewish settlements which they strongly opposed, almost everybody else, to a lesser or larger degree, claims to support them.
Kadima, whose leader Ariel Sharon proved that he not only advocated these slogans, but also showed himself capable of implementing them by forcibly evicting 10,000 Israeli citizens from their homes, has a decided advantage over the other parties, even though Ehud Olmert, who inherited his mantle, has yet to prove that he is made of the same mettle. That is probably the reason for Kadima's significant advantage so far in the polls over the other parties that tend to support these very same slogans, and by the same measure the reason for the indications of a slip in its popularity in recent weeks. Avigdor Lieberman has taken these slogans one step further with his proposal to place some of the Israeli Arab towns and villages outside Israel's borders. Why not go all the way with disengagement, he says, and get rid of these Palestinians as well. Judging by the polls, some voters are taking even this absurd proposal seriously.
Lieberman's party has obviously foregone any votes from Israel's Arab citizens. However, Israel's Arab voters are also being completely ignored by the major parties. Thus Israeli Arabs are left no choice but to vote for the traditional Arab parties whose spokesmen try to outdo each other by making bellicose anti-Israel speeches and showering praises on Israel's enemies in neighboring countries. The majority of Israel's Arab citizens will end up voting for them even though most of them are not in sympathy with their positions.
The continuation of unilateral withdrawals and further uprooting of settlements seems problematic at the present time. None of the parties promise to pursue this policy after the elections. Especially after the Hamas victory in the Palestinian election, it is most unlikely that any government to be formed after the election will continue on this path. And yet, it seems that it is this virtual policy, associated with Kadima, a virtual party, that may determine the results of the coming elections.
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