Israel is apparently going to have elections this autumn. When it does, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will almost certainly win by a big margin. The reasons for that reveal a lot about Israel, a country that many people think they understand but few actually do.
According to polls, Netanyahu’s Likud party may go from 28 to 30 seats in the 120-member Knesset. That may not sound like a large number of seats, but with around 12 different parties likely to win seats, that margin will be sufficient.
One reason for Likud’s strength is that Israel is doing pretty well. True, it faces serious security problems, but that’s the norm for Israel. Indeed, with no other trusted leader on the horizon, Netanyahu is the person most trusted to manage Israel’s dangerous security situation.
True, too, there has been increasing attention paid to social problems in recent years, including the gap between low salaries and high living costs that provoked protests last year. But those protests have since dissipated and Israel’s economy is doing better than any other Western economy, with low unemployment, low inflation and manageable state debt.
A third factor in Likud’s strength is the total fractionalization of the opposition. Indeed, one might speak of Netanyahu and the seven dwarfs. In addition to Kadima, the main opposition party, there are three mid-sized parties that take votes from the same potential constituency and quarrel among themselves:
● Kadima, which is vaguely centrist, is so discredited by its former, failed leader, Tzipi Livni, that it will not be saved by its new head, the militarily competent but colorless Shaul Mofaz, from losing as many as 20 of its 29 seats.
● Labor, which has reinvented itself as a social issues party and has an untested leader who is a radio personality, might come in a distant second.
● A new centrist party — named, perhaps in wishful thinking for itself, There is a Future — pushes the same secular centrism that has repeatedly produced one-election parties in the past.
● Israel Our Home, headed by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, has a solid base among immigrants from the former Soviet Union but by that very fact — and given the fact that Lieberman is widely disliked and close to indictment — should hold but not expand its base.
It is ironic to think that the Obama administration, whose ignorance of Israel and its politics cannot possibly be overestimated, thought it was going to bring down Netanyahu and replace him with a more pliable Livni. In fact, by its periodic bashing of Israel and ham-handed Middle East policy promoting Israel-hating Islamists, Obama unintentionally mobilized domestic support for Netanyahu.
Speaking about myths about Israel and Israeli politics, here are some of the main ones:
● Netanyahu is no longer a “right-winger” in the way he was 15 years ago. He has moved into the center, a key factor explaining his success.
● Israelis do not believe they have a peace option at present, with the Palestinians uninterested in a deal and Egypt, Iran, Turkey, the Gaza Strip, Lebanon and Syria in an all-out hostile mode.
● Israelis don’t think the U.S. will back them up in a conflict given the Obama administration’s views and actions.
● Israelis are neither stupid — giving away everything, as the foreign right often seems to think — or evil, as the foreign left definitely does think.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and Middle East editor for PJ Media. His book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press.