Netanyahu suffers from being too
popular By Pierre Klochendler
JERUSALEM - "We feel like we finally live
a normal life in a normal country," marvelled a
popular radio host. Normalcy - this rare
appreciation by Israelis of the privilege to
indulge in small talk about the stormy weather
that's wreaked the whole region - is so abnormal
They're reeling from the worst
winter storm in two decades and yet - if it wasn't
for the six Israeli and Palestinian fatalities -
life would seem trouble-free for most Israelis.
For five days this week, they've been
distracted from the lack of sunny diplomatic
horizons, enjoying a welcome respite from the
intense politicking, which burdens their country's
public life. Israelis go to the polls on January
22 and know what was and
what will be: Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu will continue to rule.
In Jerusalem, Israelis and Palestinians
could be seen engaged in snowballs battles. Where
it wasn't stifled by the silence of the snow from
the Galilee to the Negev desert, the
electioneering chatter was flooded under heavy
rains in the lowlands and valleys. Who cares
electoral campaigns are in full speed with
prime-time radio and TV ads, when Netanyahu's
popularity seems as high as sea tides crashing
against the littoral? In fact, ever since he
became prime minister four years ago, polls have
invariably been showing that, at anytime during
his tenure, he looked certain to remain at the
helm for four more years.
because he's unbeatable, the number of seats his
electoral list would garner has declined steadily
as if victory validated the law of diminishing
returns. Too much support might paradoxically lead
to too much disaffection.
elections are conducted in accordance to a
proportional parliamentary system of coalitions.
People vote for political parties' lists of
candidates. The party that scores the highest
number of seats in proportion in the 120-seat
Knesset parliament is usually chosen by the
president to form a governing coalition.
According to a poll by Dialog and
published in the liberal newspaper Haaretz, 81% of
Israelis expected him to lead another coalition
last month. But surveys now show a turndown for
the joint list under Netanyahu from the present 42
seats to 32.
The diminishing support in
favor of Netanyahu is largely to blame on his
decision to unify his right-wing Likud party list
with Avigdor Lieberman's more right-wing Israel
Beitenu party under the Likud-Beitenu ticket,
pundits concur. In politics, "united we stand"
doesn't necessarily translate into a strong
showing at the polling station.
the Likud-Beitenu combination seems a winning card
in weekly polls, the less Israelis are inclined to
confirm their forecast, showing instead their
preference for electoral lists that more
accurately reflect their personal expectations and
At the Likud primary prior to
the merger, popular moderates were evicted from
realistic slots in the electoral list by settlers
and their supporters. That alienated Likud
supporters who consider moving towards more
Ironically, in the
final analysis, most disaffected supporters appear
to follow the call of the party which Netanyahu
and Lieberman try to emulate. Hence, the slide
towards Naphtali Bennett's even more right-wing
Jewish Home party - a revamped version of the
former National Religious Party - with a more
secular, modern appeal, which caters to settlers'
So, a fortnight ago, another
survey published in the centrist daily Yedioth
Aharonoth predicted that Netanyahu would win - if
only by default - as his shrinking coalition would
enjoy an advance of only four seats on a united
front of leftist Zionist and Arab parties. But
such scenario of the Left joining forces in an
electoral, let alone, political alliance is right
A polls' aficionado often
accused of running his politics according to
public opinion's fluctuations, Netanyahu
understands he will confirm his re-election
prospects on January 22; but in that case, he
might lead a much slimmer parliamentary majority
than the one he was promised only last month.
So, after committing the original sin of
mistakenly criticizing his traditional allies (and
thus, because of infighting, weakening his own
camp), Netanyahu now hopes to close ranks,
sounding the usual alarm of a potential leftist
He now reasons that a
fresh attempt to scare alienated voters back to
the fold by persuading them of a potential victory
by the Left strengthens his own victory prospects.
Yet, another surprising poll commissioned
by the Daniel Abraham's Centre for Middle East
Peace and conducted by Dahaf and Rafi Smith
recently showed that most right-wing Israelis
would support a two-state solution and a division
of Jerusalem in exchange for peace. The Dahaf poll
showed that 57% of supporters of Lieberman's and
Bennett's parties support such agreement, with
only 25% opposed to it.
Rafi Smith's poll
showed 58% in favor and 34% opposed. Among Jewish
Home respondents to the Dahaf poll, 53% stated
they'd support such agreement; 43% said they
In other words, Israelis won't
push Netanyahu to an agreement that runs contrary
to his own credo (which, by and large, they
espouse if they vote for him), but they'd support
a peace initiative, probably secret negotiations -
as long as they won't be informed.
Diplomatic paralysis has marked
Netanyahu's premiership. In a second term, the
incumbent leader would want to define his policy,
set his legacy. Ruling a large right-wing
coalition might constrain him to a paralysis
similar to the one he's been managing thus far.
But a diminished coalition won't allow him more
freedom to rule either, just more of the same
"A strong prime minister, a
strong Israel" reads Netanyahu's wishful thinking
on billboards across the country.
again at the helm, what's predicted might hardly
be a recipe for Israelis to regain their passion
for politics, and their enthusiasm for the
"Netanyahu" ballot. Not Netanyahu's politics, but
the vagaries of the Israeli electorate's voting
patterns might be as unpredictable as the weather.