Four days after the final candidates' list for the 19th Knesset were submitted to the Central Elections Committee, here's the current electoral picture, in two words: Game over.
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The center-left bloc is a fragmented mess, while the right-wing bloc has never looked so hale and hearty. The joint Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu ticket is gaining strength while Labor is weakening. The main accomplishment so far of Hatnuah chairwoman Tzipi Livni is enfeebling two of her sister parties on the center left to the point of oblivion. A good job by all accounts, but Livni has not managed to attract even a single Knesset seat's worth of votes from the rival camp. MK Amir Peretz's last-minute enlistment to Hatnuah hasn't changed the party's standing in the polls.
The election season began in earnest only on Sunday, after the dust settled from all the turnabouts, the dramas big and small, the splits, the defections, the comings and goings.
The shape of the political map is known to all. Apart from the distribution of Knesset seats, there is one very unusual finding from Sunday's Haaretz poll, conducted by Dialog under the supervision of Prof. Camil Fuchs of Tel Aviv University: In response to the question, "Who, in your opinion, will be the next prime minister: Benjamin Netanyahu, Shelly Yacimovich or Tzipi Livni?" (the order of the candidates' names was rotated ), 81 percent of the respondents answered "Netanyahu." That goes way beyond a self-fulfilling prophecy. The only possible interpretation of the finding is that this election campaign was over before it began, or immediately thereafter. It makes Yacimovich and Livni seem laughably arrogant in depicting themselves as candidates for prime minister.
To this finding we must add the following: On the question of the candidates' suitability to be premier - a critical question in any election - Netanyahu beat out the pretenders to the throne by nearly inconceivable numbers. When asked to chose between Netanyahu and either Livni or Yacimovich, 64 percent said he was the most suitable candidate. In comparison, Livni got 24 percent, and Yacimovich took 17 percent.
Livni's entry into the race (topping a rather impressive ticket, it must be said ) not only fails to increase the size of the center-left bloc, as she promised the public, it reduces it. The Livni effect has negative implications for two parties that may be on the brink of extinction - Kadima and Meretz - as well as for Labor, which dips below the 20-MK line. There was a reason Yacimovich went out of her way to lure Livni to Labor and promised her half the kingdom. She knew exactly what would happen if Livni tried to draw from the same shrinking pool of voters.
The leader of Yesh Atid, Yair Lapid, is in even worse shape: Before Livni he was somewhere in the eight-MK region, now he's down to six. It's not just Livni, it's also his unfocused, chase-two-rabbits-catch-none campaign.
Likud-Beiteinu is nearing the 40-MK mark. The reasons are obvious: For one, the voters see a unified camp, whose members aren't sniping at each other, compared to the circus next door. Two, Israel's agenda is entirely focused on security and foreign policy - the strong suit of Netanyahu and his campaign partner, Avigdor Lieberman. As long as every television news broadcast opens with Hamas celebrations in the Gaza Strip, with growing concerns over Syria's chemical weapons stores, with riots in Egypt and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' diplomatic maneuvers against Israel, Netanyahu doesn't need to spend a single agora on election ads. Reality is the most effective campaign he could wish for his party.
The voters have picked their premier, but they're not stupid: By a large majority, poll respondents said Netanyahu's motives for deciding to build thousands of homes in the territories, starting with the E-1 corridor between Ma'aleh Adumim and East Jerusalem, were political and not nationalist, as he claimed.