Israeli elections: Predict this one at your peril

It is unfortunate, but hardly surprising, that Israel finds itself heading for new elections. No
Israeli government has managed to make it through its full term in a generation.

Still, it is a pity. Israel could have done with a little stability right now, what with the global financial crisis, the threat from Iran, a soon-to-be new US president, talks with Syria, negotiations with the Palestinians and all the usual stresses and strains of being a beleaguered state in the Middle East.

The cliché of Israeli political turmoil is that Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu is the one to benefit, as voters turn rightwards into his reassuring arms.

But Tzipi Livni may yet fox expectations. She displayed political backbone by refusing to accede to Shas demands, although kept her squeaky-clean reputation intact at the price of not actually managing to stay in power. In any case, polls this week show Livni inching ahead, although a lot can happen in a three-month political campaign. Outside influence will also help make up Israeli minds - the matter of who wins the US presidency next week, for a start, with an Obama presidency likely to make Israelis feel that much more insecure.

The Palestinian armed groups have always tried to make up Israeli minds for them - witness the bus bombing campaigns of 1995 and 1996 which, along with Labour arrogance, helped swing power to Bibi in the first place. The ceasefire with Hamas is due to end in December and a hail of Kassams on the Western Negev, or a resumption of attacks on central Israel, will push the electorate rightwards.

And what chaos awaits in January, when President Mahmoud Abbas's term officially ends? Hamas has already made clear it will not recognise his presidency after that date.

The problem with a Netanyahu premiership is not that he is a right-wing Likudnik, since previous of that ilk such as Menachem Begin (peace with Egypt) and Ariel Sharon (the Gaza disengagement) accomplished astonishingly bold moves in their time. But Bibi has never shown anything like good judgment, let alone vision.

It also does not help that Kadima does not really stand for anything particularly quantifiable, or that Labour is flailing about for a raison d'etre.

A pity, indeed. There is a huge centrist consensus in the Israeli public - they are just waiting for a political visionary to give them a party to vote for.

    Last updated: 5:41pm, October 30 2008