This time round, while there is a certain déjà vu in the situation prior to the elections, there are changes in party loyalties, which have become dramatic. Many old time party leaders have changed loyalties because of personal gripes with their respective elected party leaders. The Labor Party is a case in point. Shimon Peires, the veteran Labour leader, was dissatisfied with the election of Amir Peretz to the leadership decided to bolt the party and move to Kadima – the centrist party, and took with him a few key members such as Chaim Ramon and Dalia Itzik. The blow to the Labor Party is uncertain. The results of the elections will be the deciding point as to how much Labor will gain or lose. The Likud Party felt this more as many senior members also left to the Kadima Party because of the split between those for and against the Gaza disengagement.
The three main contenders, Likud, Kadima and Labor will be the main issue however, it is almost certain that none will win an absolute majority to form the next government. This election will be different from all the previous elections in that party loyalties in all directions have changed. The Kadima Party according to the polls stands the best chance of winning. This will be the first time in Israel’s history that a new party has excellent chances of winning. In the past, new mushroom parties sprang up, received many votes and became nonentities barely lasting out their terms in office. The central Dash Party under Prof Yigal Yadin of 1977, The Third Way of Avigdor Kayalani of the 1990s, the Centre Party of Yitschak Mordechai of 1999, and the Shinui Party of Tommy Lapid of 2002 disappeared from the political spectrum into irrelevance. This will not happen to Kadima that has broken the bounds of traditional party loyalties and is fielding strong candidates - well-known political hacks of the past government under PM Ariel Sharon.
The usual plethora of small parties of questionable positive significance is also on the periphery of these elections. These range from the ultra-Orthodox non-Zionist narrow issue parties, Arab Parties whose interests are those of Israeli Arabs only and the right wing settlement supporting parties. Out of these small parties, the left Meretz-Yahad has a national manifesto that is all-embracing and is reasonable. This party has remained true to its ideology as illustrated by the quality of its candidates who are experienced parliamentarians. The Likud and Kadima Parties have been tainted with corruption. Any party that has a corrupt record is not worthy of re-election. Some candidates in these parties are on the verge of being summoned for enquiries for their suspected illegal activities. This is the first stage before the Attorney General, Mani Mazuz, draws up charge sheets against them.
The Israeli Electorate should take a number of factors into consideration before casting their votes, which will be mentioned later.
It is unfortunate that the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians will take a back burner position in these elections. Hamas’s electoral victory does not open the door for meaningful negotiations to a final, just settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Hamas and Fatah are negotiating to form a coalition, which does not seem to get off the ground. It is doubtful if it will. The problem between Israel and the Palestinians will remain existential for an indefinite period until Hamas becomes more pragmatic, recognizes Israel’s right to exist, and disarms its groups of vigilante, terrorist militias. There is a form of consensus on this issue between the main parties. Their differences are approach once Hamas gets their act right on peace with Israel.
The electorate will have to decide whether clean government takes priority. Israelis are taxed heavily. The tax burden is one of the heaviest in the world and the returns for the average citizen are poor in comparison to what they pay. Can we sit back and allow the government to squander our money on personal pleasures, conveniences and travels?
Another factor is the future of various social issues. The Likud Government had adopted draconian financial cuts when Bibi Netanyahu was Minister of Finance. Employees in the public service were forced to pay an extra tax – support and growth tax - for which there was no accountability. The poorer sectors, such as pensioners and those who live in poverty were the hardest hit. The pension able age for men was raised to 67 years and for women 63 years from 65years and 60 years respectively. Does the Likud deserve support with Bibi Netanyahu at the helm? All those who are members of Kadima were also partners to these draconian cuts. The memories of the Israeli Electorate are short and there is no doubt that they will vote for a government most hostile to their social needs as in the past. They will then moan until the next elections scheduled in 2010. It has been the case for most governments since Israel’s establishment.
The issues in these elections should be
- Promise of clean government
- The educational standards that have eroded under the Likud ought to be improved.
- Social services and improvement of minimal salaries to encourage employment should be given top priority.
- Movement towards an end to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict should be an important goal.
- Economic stability and growth as well as encouraging oversea investment in Israeli industries are important as well.