On Tuesday night, when the election results begin to take shape, analysts and pundits will reflect on what has transpired in recent months and will, at some point, likely say, "That was the moment that decided these elections." Which moment will it be? We will know in about forty hours.
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- Anshel Pfeffer / 6 Election Lessons
Meanwhile, here are the ten moments that shaped the course of the campaign – and perhaps the results as well.
The Likud-Kadima coalition falls apart (July 17, 2012) It lasted only 70 days and fell apart over relatively minor differences between the two major parties over the best way to drafting yeshiva students to national service. Yet the failure of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's grand coalition – one of the biggest ever in Israeli history – signaled his difficulties both with Likud's "natural allies" (Haredi parties) and with his alternative partners (centrist parties). Elections were the only way out, though the campaign offered only a temporary respite. Netanyahu will be back at the drawing board, trying to figure how to join the two disparate camps into one coalition, starting Wednesday.
Netanyahu's speech at the United Nations General Assembly (September 27, 2012) The speech in English was, ostensibly, aimed at an international audience, but in reality it was the opening shot in the election campaign – and not just because it would feature prominently in Likud-Beiteinu's propaganda. In that speech, Netanyahu announced that Israel saw mid-2013 as the pivotal moment of truth on Iran's nuclear program; in other words, the Iranian issue is off the table for now but remains in Israel's (near) future. Netanyahu set the tone for his campaign in that speech, stressing that he is the only strong leader capable of standing up to Iran and the rest of the world. The details of his policy don't matter – what matters is only that a strong Israel needs a strong leader. (See video below.)
Netanyahu calls for early elections (October 9, 2012) The prime minister explained that the current coalition could not agree on "a responsible budget" and moved up elections by nearly ten months. But the campaign rarely touched on that proposed budget, except in the last few days when it emerged that the deficit doubled in 2012. Will he regret not having kept his government together for longer?
Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu unite (October 25, 2012) American strategist Arthur Finkelstein promised Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman that their two parties combined would be much more powerful. Now the polls have the duo, which had 42 seats in the last Knesset, gaining only 32 together. It's still the largest party, but it will have much weaker standing in the coalition talks.
Naftali Bennett elected leader of Habayit Hayehudi (November 7, 2012) Behind the scenes, Netanyahu tried to help Bennett's opponent, Zevulun Orlev, take Habayit Hayehudi's primaries. He knew how ambitious and effective his former chief of staff could be. Bennett reenergized the party that received only three seats in the last election. He ran a populist campaign on Facebook, united with National Union and attracted disappointed Likud and Kadima voters. Now he is poised to lead the third-largest party and Likud's major coalition partner.
Operation Pillar of Defense (November 14-21, 2012) Some believe that Netanyahu ordered the assassination of Hamas military leader Ahmed Jabari and the strikes on Gaza for electoral reasons. If that is true, the operation has not helped him in the polls. It did boost Bennett though – he was quick to say that the ceasefire had come too early and that Israel had failed to beat Hamas.
Likud primaries (November 26-27, 2012) Moderates Benny Begin, Dan Meridor and Michael Eitan were all booted off the party's list, while extremist Moshe Feiglin will be a Likud MK along with ultra-right-wingers Tzipi Hotovely, Danny Danon and Zeev Elkin, who climbed up the list. Likud hid most of Feiglin's candidates during the campaign, but they destroyed the party's pretensions of being a "national liberal" faction. They will also try to prevent Netanyahu from forming a centrist coalition after the election.
Amir Peretz leaves Labor (December 6, 2012) He may have come in at second place in Labor's primaries, but Amir Peretz knew that with his former protege, turned rival, Shelly Yacimovich at the helm, he would have little influence over the party's direction. Still, his defection to Tzipi Livni's Hatnuah underscored Yacimovich's decision to run a campaign based solely on socio-economic issues and her refusal to emphasize Labor's traditional policies on a two-state solution and the settlements. Livni's party is by no means a huge success, but she has denied Labor valuable votes.
Netanyahu lashes out against Bennett (December 21, 2012) Bennett was forced to retract his comments in favor of conscientious objection but Netanyahu's fevered attack – in not one but three televised interviews – against his rival from the right only focused attention on the young challenger. It also turned the trickle of Likud voters to Habayit Hayehudi into a torrent.
Centrist parties' coordination fails (January 7, 2013) Fantasies of a united front of center-left parties against Netanyahu crashed on the rock of reality when the leaders of the three main centrist parties, Yacimovich, Livni and Yair Lapid, met just two weeks before the election. Yacimovich and Lapid spurned Livni's plan to coordinate efforts, believing that both stood to gain more from attacking Hatnuah than from cooperating with it. Netanyahu may be losing votes but his opposition remains as splintered as ever.