The question for 2015: will Bibi survive?


This is already shaping up to be one of the most acrimonious of all Israeli election campaigns.

Likud and Habayit Hayehudi this week accused former Justice Minister Tzipi Livni of interfering with Israel’s diplomatic affairs in order to further her own political interests.

In a guest appearance on a comedy show called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu two weeks ago, Ms Livni called the PM “impotent” and “a zero”.

At one end of the political spectrum, Shas and Eli Yishai’s breakaway party are embarking on a battle for political survival which has featured beggar-thy-neighbour rabbinical blessings; the release of embarrassing tapes full of slurs; and the occasional scuffle between supporters.

At the other, the three Arab parties are gearing up for their own dirty fight to avoid oblivion if the efforts to field a joint list fail.

In the centre ground, the gloves are not yet off, but with at least three parties competing for the secular moderate vote, things will not remain calm.

Yisrael Beiteinu’s Avigdor Lieberman, has launched his own campaign, ready to target one or other sector as a national scapegoat.

The first two-and-a-half months of 2015 — until Israelis go to the polls on March 17 — promise to be a highly divisive period. But one question will dominate these elections above all: the suitability of Mr Netanyahu to continue as PM. Polls indicate that nearly two-thirds of Israelis believe he should be replaced, but they agree on nothing else. Certainly not on who should replace him.

Likud strategists continue to rely on the absence of a serious challenger and believe that, once the results are in, a majority will coalesce around Mr Netanyahu once again.

For this to happen, however, Likud will need to be able to claim not only that the right-wing-religious bloc of parties is the largest in the Knesset, but that a sufficient number of voters have entrusted them.

The polls have the party hovering around the 20-seat mark and, worse, they are running neck-and-neck with Labour-Hatnuah; Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi is not far away with 16-17 seats; and a hypothetical link-up between Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid and Mosh Kahlon’s Kulanu is also scoring 20-plus. Suddenly, there are lots of potential prime ministers and parties of power.

It is much too early to make serious predictions. Mr Netanyahu is still in the best position to form a coalition; his would-be rivals will need to concoct some extremely unorthodox combinations to achieve majorities of their own.

But if the Bibi brand proves so toxic that Likud lands fewer than 20 seats, any formation of parties which does not have him as its leader will become much more likely.

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