Benjamin Netanyahu’s clear victory in the Knesset election can’t be attributed, as the left and several media outlets are doing, merely to “tribal voting” or the right’s “fearmongering.” This is the third straight election after which Netanyahu will form a government. The last time a (relatively) left-wing candidate won was in 1999 — Ehud Barak and Labor. (In 2006, Ehud Olmert’s Kadima was a centrist party.)
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The results reflect a long-term trend. Israelis lean to the right.
Some experts will no doubt use demography to explain this. Among young voters and even more so among religious-Zionist and ultra-Orthodox voters — three groups whose size is always on the rise — the right has been preferred for years. Even though Netanyahu generates strong reservations among many voters, this wasn’t enough to snuff out the right’s advantage.
But something deeper is happening. The first reasonable conclusion is that despite the extensive media attention to Israel’s economic woes and social gaps, the security situation — mainly its implications for Israelis’ personal safety — remains the major consideration on Election Day.
It has been this way since the first intifada and the Oslo Accords. Here Netanyahu leads by a wide margin — the same Netanyahu responsible for the housing crisis and whose problematic personal conduct became a media mainstay in recent months.
It seems that the occupation’s moral and political implications, despite the myriad of articles published in Haaretz, aren’t the Israeli voter’s main concern. Security risks concern him much more, and this angst is well founded.
The cumulative impression is that most voters adopt the right’s conclusions on the security front — the responsibility for the negotiations freeze lies with the Palestinians too, not just with Israel — and the chances of resolving the conflict are slim at the moment. Plus the Palestinians are no longer the most burning issue in the Middle East. Even if a divine miracle quickly resolved the conflict, it wouldn’t erase the other threats.
After four years of turmoil in the Arab world, with collapsing states and deranged terror groups spitting distance of Israel’s borders, voters are concerned. Most of them, despite Netanyahu’s drawbacks, think he knows better how to deal with those threats.
Opposing Likud and relying on many people’s disillusion with Netanyahu, the left provided a candidate who didn’t look convincing enough. Throughout the campaign, Isaac Herzog looked colorless — probably the least charismatic left-wing candidate since Barak in 2001.
Herzog (even the joint branding with Tzipi Livni was of dubious value) wasn’t perceived as a security expert. When the usual question arose over who would pick up the red phone at 3 A.M., the image of the nearly neurotic Zionist Camp chief didn’t stir confidence.
Journalists’ ramming the right choice down voters’ throats didn’t seem to help Herzog. In the eyes of someone looking in from the sidelines, there was a strange mixture of shaky opinion polls and groundless conjecture based on positive thinking and Netanyahu’s personal habits, which were irrelevant to voters. After all, how important was his relationship with his wife and sons?
And it’s a problem when a serious institution like Yedioth Ahronoth aligns its coverage with the lowly standards of the free pro-government newspaper. I think many people canceled their subscription to Ynet’s push service under the impression that someone was trying to make every aspect of life here seem miserable before Election Day.
The wide gap after the election probably ensures that Moshe Ya’alon will remain defense minister. Moshe Kahlon’s room for maneuver shrank overnight and won’t guarantee his party a senior cabinet post other than the Finance Ministry.
In any case, the General Staff is probably relieved. It’s doubtful many of those generals are Netanyahu fans, but they know how to work with Ya’alon and his responsible approach to using force. Appointing Kulanu’s Yoav Galant to the post would raise tensions based on past issues with Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot.
Appointing Naftali Bennett or Avigdor Lieberman would cause an even greater upheaval in the army. Ya’alon will be more of the same, which under the circumstances suits the military.
The immediate question will be Iran, based on the progress in the Iran-P5+1 talks on Tehran’s nuclear program. Netanyahu has very little influence on this matter despite all the attention he pays to it. The U.S. administration will pay little heed to Israel’s arguments on an accord. A unilateral Israeli attack seems to be off the table at the moment.
Another complex and burning issue is the Palestinian situation. Chief negotiator Saeb Erekat has announced that the Palestinian Authority’s joining of the International Criminal Court will be moved up to April 1. Israel will have to decide whether to continue freezing the transfer of tax money to the PA, risking a serious economic crisis and a hampering of security coordination.
This tension, along with the palpable disappointment in Washington and Europe over Netanyahu’s third straight victory, may signal that a diplomatic collapse is looming even before a third intifada erupts.