Israeli elections: Left proves to be cardboard opposition

By Anshel Pfeffer, January 10, 2013
Supporters of left-wing Meretz join hands to protest against the politicking of Yachimovich, Livni and Lapid (Photo: Flash 90)

Supporters of left-wing Meretz join hands to protest against the politicking of Yachimovich, Livni and Lapid (Photo: Flash 90)

A week and a half before Israelis go to the polls, the main opposition parties are still squabbling between themselves.

Labour, Kadima and Yesh Atid are proving themselves incapable of capitalising on the travails of Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu which, while remaining on track to form the next government, continues to lose seats to its right-wing rival.

In addition, last Thursday, in an attempt to put her party above the 20-seat mark, Labour leader Shelly Yachimovich announced that on no condition would she join Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition after the election.

“We will either form the next government or lead the opposition,” said Ms Yachimovich at a press conference in Tel Aviv.

The announcement was emblematic of Labour’s strategy throughout this campaign. Polling carried out by American adviser Stan Greenberg — who in the past worked with Bill Clinton and Tony Blair — shows that Israeli voters are more concerned with the economy and social issues than with the Iranian nuclear threat and the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Based on this, Labour has tried to attract moderate Likud voters, hoping to erode the dominance of the right-wing and religious bloc, which in polls hold around 60 per cent of the seats in the next Knesset.
Ms Yachimovich’s tactic of emphasising Labour’s financial programmes while playing down its traditional support for a two-state solution has so far been unsuccessful.

Late last week, Labour has been losing votes to other centrist parties. Some polls put them on 16 seats, jeopardising their position as the second-largest party in the next Knesset.

Meanwhile, the leader of Labour’s main rival in the centre-left camp, Tzipi Livni, called for talks between the parties that are opposed to Mr Netanyahu. Ms Yachimovich and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid met her on Sunday night to discuss co-ordinating their moves, but the meeting failed to achieve any agreement.

On Monday, Ms Livni’s Hatnuah party released a video in which she called upon Israelis to vote for one of the parties opposed to Likud, but Ms Yachimovich and Mr Lapid immediately issued a joint statement in which they accused her of trying to use them for “a spin devoid of truth and content”.

Neither Hatnuah nor Yesh Atid have ruled out joining a Netanyahu coalition, although Mr Lapid said he will not join without another centrist party — and Ms Livni is still urging all three parties to adopt a joint stance.

In an attempt to rally Likud’s dwindling ranks, the prime minister took to the airwaves on Monday, denouncing the “parties of the left” for “not stopping at anything in their attempt to topple me”.

Unnamed Likud ministers were more direct when they blamed President Shimon Peres for “doing everything to prevent Netanyahu’s victory” and pressuring the opposition parties to work together against the prime minister.
In recent weeks, Mr Peres has separately met the party leaders but his office denied he was involved in politics in any way.

Polls published this week still show that Mr Netanyahu can easily form a government based on the right-wing and religious parties that make up his current coalition but that Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu’s proportion of that coalition is steadily shrinking. One poll puts the party as far down as 32 seats (the two parties currently hold 42 seats), with Habayit Hayehudi, led by Mr Netanyahu’s former chief of staff, Naftali Bennett, rising as high as 16.

Efforts by Likud to portray Mr Bennett as a dangerous extremist have so far failed to stem its losses. Last week, the party changed tack and directed its fire away from Mr Bennett, highlighting instead some of the more radical members on the Habayit Hayehudi list, focusing on apparently misogynist statements they have made in the past.

Last updated: 5:45pm, January 10 2013