Elections Are 3 Months Away, but a Scent of Upheaval Is Already in the Air

The incipient signs can be found in polls like the one Haaretz published this week, indicating Netanyahu may be in trouble. On the other hand, things aren’t looking great for the Labor-Hatnuah partnership, either.

Amos Biderman

Anyone who feels elections in the air, raise your hand. Less than three months before voting day and the monster is still dozing. The internal shifts in the parties grab the headlines for 24 hours – the normal lifespan for a news item – and then fade into the back pages of the papers. This campaign, less than two years after the previous one, is so far mainly generating indifference mixed with irritability and incomprehension about why and over what another election is needed.

But it will come, because there’s a scent of upheaval in the air. And when that’s felt more intensely by the public across the political spectrum, people will come out from under the down quilts and man the barricades. In the meantime, the incipient signs can be found in polls, like the Haaretz-Dialog survey published here yesterday. After six consecutive years of Netanyahu governments, a large proportion of the public (53 percent) thinks the country is on the wrong track. Almost the same portion (54 percent) thinks it’s time to wave goodbye to a prime minister whose nine years in office, cumulatively, are second only in length to the tenure of David Ben-Gurion. If that frame of mind persists, Bibi is in trouble.

The shift is also beginning to emerge in the forecasts of the distribution of Knesset seats, however premature, as the array of forces isn’t yet clear. What is clear, though, is that Likud has been weakening slowly but surely in recent weeks: The party is already close to the 20-seat mark, below which lurks political oblivion. If Netanyahu gets fewer than 20, not even his friends in Likud will recommend to the president that he assemble and lead the next government – they’ll be too busy polishing their swords and honing their axes.

The Likud slate is in a protracted process of erosion, like an outdated brand. Always look at the trend, the polling expert Benjamin Netanyahu used to tell people during election campaigns. And the trend for Likud right now is downhill.

But things aren’t looking great for the Labor-Hatnuah partnership, either. That project, which was launched with great fanfare last week, with a forecast of 24 seats in various polls, has since lost three or more of those seats. In yesterday’s Haaretz poll, the partnership was down to 21 seats. Still, that’s a vast improvement over the alternative. Before the union, Labor under Isaac Herzog was a marginal player, whereas now it’s playing in the big leagues. But Netanyahu’s mantra had better resonate with Herzog, too: It’s the trend, stupid.

And after all that, it has to be said that the polls are no more than a plaything for journalists, and mostly of interest to genre addicts. They don’t provide any indication of the results that will actually emerge on March 17. At most, they will serve as methodological milestones on the long, agonizingly winding, obstacle-strewn road of the politicians and the parties all the way to the ballot box.

Tzipi’s faux pas

If Hatnuah leader MK Tzipi Livni could turn the clock back, she would unhesitatingly blue-pencil the string of expletives she hurled in the direction of Netanyahu on the Channel 2 satirical program “The State of the Nation” last Saturday evening. Of course, she won’t admit that, because Tzipi is, after all, Tzipi: She’s above admissions and apologies. But all levels of her new political milieu are treating her overbearing performance on the show as nothing less than an electoral and PR disaster.

According to the “levels” just mentioned, there are two, or two and a half, reasons for the abrupt decline in the number of seats forecast for her party’s joint slate with Labor. They are: the “State of the Nation” effect; unease about Herzog’s puzzling readiness to rotate the putative premiership with Livni; and the natural fading of the festive atmosphere that attends every significant political move at the outset. A loss of three-four seats in one week is cause for concern.

Anyway, those who are worried that the rotation agreement is liable to torpedo the formation of a future coalition – given the logical scenario that a candidate from the center-right, be it Avigdor Lieberman or Moshe Kahlon, will also demand two years for himself – can relax. Livni and Herzog agreed, apparently in written form on their iPads, that she will replace Herzog midterm only if their joint slate is so large that no one else is in a position to ask for a little rotation.

Livni has never minced her words. As opposition leader early in the previous Knesset, she tongue-lashed Netanyahu furiously. No wonder we were surprised to see her jump on the wagon of the third Netanyahu government. And no wonder many viewers cringed when they heard such a sharp utterance by the person who until recently was justice minister toward the person she served under – and, as far as she was concerned, would have been ready to keep serving under. This election was forced on her. She did not resign from the “garbage” government (her term on “State of the Nation”) – she was fired.

“The young crowd liked her performance,” people in her milieu said this week, “and the number of [campaign] volunteers shot up. The older and the more involved folks liked it less.” Livni never imagined the effect her humor on TV would have. But what totally dumbfounded her was the reaction of former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin, who with rather twisted and weird logic, likened her remarks to the incitement of Netanyahu and the right wing against Yitzhak Rabin before that latter’s assassination. Of all the condemnations and guffaws and reprimands she took, that post by Diskin – who is himself a fierce critic of Netanyahu, and whose views of his performance as prime minister resemble hers – brought home to Livni that even if she meant to be humorous, people in her circle and her way of thinking were taking her