Israeli leaders turn deaf ear to core issues in poll

Israeli leaders turn deaf ear to core issues in poll

İrem Köker Tel Aviv / Hürriyet
Israeli leaders turn deaf ear to core issues in poll

A man walks in front of campaign posters for the Likud-Israel Beiteinu Party, showing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in Jerusalem. EPA Photo

Israelis voted today in an election likely to return incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as head of a right-wing coalition. Although the regional issues and the peace process are still the most important topics, the candidates refrained to build their campaigns on these issues.

According to analysts, the Israeli voters turned rightist politicians as they lose their confidence and hope in the peace process as well as increased Islamic governments in the region after the Arab Spring. The latest polls show Netanyahu’s Likud and far-rightist Avigdor Lieberman’s e Yisrael Beiteinu will win the elections.

Hebrew University Political Science Professor Avraham Diskin said a major issue that rarely has been discussed in the campaign is the stalled peace talks with the Palestinians. “In other countries it’s really the economy and social issues. It is important in Israel and it caused huge rallies in 2011. But still, I believe the most important issue is the Arab-Israeli conflict,” said Diskin.

Only two political leaders and parties continued to express their views on the peace process. One is Naftali Bennett, the former chief of staff of Netanyahu and the new rising star of Israeli politics. The outspoken, charismatic rightist leader said Israel must not allow the establishment of a Palestinian state at the heart of its land and should annex most parts of the West Bank.

Despite these hawkish views, other candidate who included peace process and the relations with Turkey to the campaign strategy was Tzipi Livni, the 52 year-old former foreign minister. Livni remained the only strong candidate expressing support to a two-state solution after the Labour, traditionally pro-two-state party, reportedly took a decision not to raise the topic of the peace process with the Palestinians in the campaign.

“We need a leader who can take decisions that will make Israelis life better. Netanyahu cannot. That’s why I am back,” said Livni, who quit politics after losing leadership voting in Kadima and decided to return with establishing her own movement Hatnua in November.

“We have to restore our ties with Turkey. There are great challenges in the region that we have to work together with Turkey to resolve them. Apology, compensation... All these issues can be solved,” she added.

Livni’s party is expected to take 8-10 seats in the new Parliament. Some predict Netanyahu may approach her after elections in forming a new government. The Constitution of the new government will be decisive in the new direction that Israel will take.

Netanyahu may decide to seek a coalition with his native partners in the right or, as some predicted, he may prefer to see a number of parties in the left and center in the coalition.
“It is important to see from which party Netanyahu will go first. If he sits on the table with rightist parties first, then we will have a more hawkish government. If that happens, Israel will face a greater risk of isolation,” said Alon Liel, a political analyst and former Director General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

After a slow start yesterday, the pace of voting picked up, with long queues forming outside some polling stations in Jerusalem. By noon, the Central Elections Committee said 26.7 percent of voters had already cast ballots.