Benjamin Netanyahu’s New Headache
Benjamin Netanyahu sounded a confident note at the official launch of his re-election campaign last week, but to anybody who’s been watching Israeli political developments, it’s clear that with three weeks until Election Day, the prime minister suddenly has reasons to be fearful. Not for his job, of course—Netanyahu’s hold on the premiership remains unchallenged—but of the headaches he is suddenly likely to face as he assembles his next governing coalition.
Netanyahu’s re-election was supposed to be a pain-free affair. In late October, Netanyahu shocked the political world when he and hardline Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced that their parties, Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu (“Israel Our Home”), would be running on a joint list in the elections. By adding Lieberman’s party, Netanyahu hoped to create a large unified rightist bloc that would minimize the concessions small parties usually extort from election victors looking to build a coalition. (Currently, Likud controls only 27 of the 66 Knesset members in the government.)
Initially, the gambit appeared to be paying off. Even after the Likud’s Tea Party-esque primary results last month, “Likud Beiteinu” looked set to duplicate or surpass the 38 seats former Likud prime minister Ariel Sharon won in 2003, at the height of the Second Intifada. But in recent weeks, the alliance has steadily hemorrhaged support, and it’s not clear that the bleeding has stopped. Three polls published last week had the list at 34 seats, and another had it down to 33—still nearly double that of the nearest competitor (the center-left Labor Party), but nowhere near the 42 seats the parties currently hold or the 45 forecast by the merger’s mastermind, American political consultant Arthur Finkelstein. (It wouldn’t be Finkelstein’s first failed prophecy. Netanyahu was reportedly shocked by the U.S. election results after Finkelstein predicted a four-point Romney victory).
Why the sudden drop in support? Two primary factors seem to be at work.