If Israel's election were to be a referendum on the issues that will occupy us as soon as it's over, the current campaign would focus on the following: U.S. President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians; the investigations of the prime minister and the attorney general’s decision on whether to indict him; the need to solve the problems in the Gaza Strip; and the expected budget deficit of at least 20 billion shekels ($5.54 billion) in the coming two years.
But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to kick all these matters down the road. He has been pressing Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit not to publicize his decision on starting the hearing process before any indictments are filed; he reached an understanding with Trump that the president will not present his peace deal before the election; he is signaling to Hamas that it would be wise to maintain a low profile until after the vote; and the issue of the budget deficit and the urgently needed fixes for the country's collapsing health system is being set aside. Health is the most important thing? The election is the most important thing.
From time to time the truth peeks out, but only for campaign propaganda purposes. For example, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said this week, “The right needs to wake up. After the election, Trump will present his plan for the establishment of a Palestinian state. This is the danger.” Will such a plan really be presented? This sounds like vital information for voters, because it is an issue that underlies the basis of the divide between right and left. So why shouldn’t voters be given a full picture of the plan, so they can go to the polls with relevant information in hand? Why doesn’t Netanyahu want them to get such information?
Perhaps for the same reason that he objects to the attorney general making his decision public on whether to bring charges against him. Netanyahu wants to be elected prime minister before the hearing procedure begins so he can wage the legal fight of his life from the residence on Balfour Street. That will allow him to control the pace of the proceedings, to confront the judicial system with “the will of the people” – who, current polls indicate, will hand him another election victory – and to use his parliamentary majority to legislate the “French law,” which would thwart the attorney general’s decision. Mendelblit’s intention to announce his decision in mid-February was the only option he had, because Netanyahu tried to preempt the decision by calling for a snap election, and because the voters have a right to know exactly what the prime minister is suspected of.
And there is other information that voters need before they go to the polls. Such as: What are the various parties’ plans concerning Gaza, irrespective of the “deal of the century”? Keeping Hamas calm until the election – if that even succeeds – is just a tactical move that doesn’t solve anything.
The leaders of each party must present their ideas about the issues that will concern residents of the south after April 9. Do their plans involve entering Gaza? Seeking a long-term accord? Making the indirect contacts with Hamas direct? What’s on the menu? Talk about it. Let the voters have some real information with which to make their choice.
The same goes for the economic arena. It’s no secret that after the election, steps will have to be taken to avoid exceeding the deficit target. And this is at a time when the health system is desperate for funding that could swell that deficit even further. How are we going to pay for this? By raising taxes, as proposed by Health Ministry director general Moshe Bar Siman Tov? And if we’re going to have budget cuts, where will they be? How does each party intend to approach this problem?
This is what will matter to voters the day after the election, so why not talk about it before?
The attempt to put off discussion of the most relevant issues recalls Israelis’ penchant for putting things off until “after the holidays.” But what Netanyahu is doing is different. This is not just some harmless local custom, but an attempt to drain the election campaign of any substance, to deny people the ability to vote knowledgeably on the issues most pertinent to them. At least Mendelblit has realized this.
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