As the 2015 Israeli campaign reaches a last-minute fevered pitch, it might be worth briefly reflecting on what this election might be about. Here are a few possibilities.
A referendum on Bibi Netanyahu. Throughout the sturm und drang of this campaign season, the only clear question that seems to be up for a vote is whether Netanyahu should be rewarded with yet another term at the helm of a largely dysfunctional Israeli government. If he’s denied, it probably won’t be because of his wife’s shenanigans with bottle deposits.
Bread and butter economic concerns. The soaring price of housing, putting a decent home out of reach for a growing segment of the Israeli population; the skyrocketing cost of living; and even the price of chocolate pudding have been front-and-center for much of the anti-Bibi campaign.
Israel’s relations with the United States. While certainly not the main event, this election may marginally be about the future of Israel-US relations. Netanyahu put his bet down when he marched into Washington and laid waste to 66 years of bipartisan US support for Israel. While this won’t be the cause of his undoing, some voters will undoubtedly punish him for one of the worst calls since the final play of the 2015 Super Bowl.
Political engagement of Israel’s Arab citizens. In reaction to right-wing efforts to reduce Arab Knesset representation by raising the electoral threshold, the small Arab political parties did the unexpected. They unified to form a single Arab list, likely to result in dramatic increases in Arab voter turnout and in perhaps the largest-ever Arab presence in the Knesset.
One thing is tragically certain. This election will not afford voters a real choice among clear alternative futures on the most important, even existential, questions facing Israeli society: a continued corrosive occupation or an agreement with the Palestinians; growing regional alienation or normalized relations with the Arab world; and the challenge of reconciling Israel’s Jewish and democratic character once and for all.
With no single party likely to receive more than 20-25% of the vote, the election seems doomed to the fate of a bad B-movie as the likelihood of a Bougi-Bibi “national unity government” looms ever larger.
Perhaps the best that can be expected from a placeholder unity government at this point is weakened influence from the extreme right without major policy changes, but allowing a cooling-down of the extremist socio-political tone of recent years creating better conditions for a new and bolder government in the next round of elections, which could easily come as soon as 2017. Sad, even tragic, for an Israel desperately in need of progress toward resolving the conflict and strengthening its international standing.