JERUSALEM – Benjamin Netanyahu seems poised for re-election as Israel’s prime minister in today’s voting, the result of the failure of his opponents to unite behind a viable candidate against him – and the fact that most Israelis no longer seem to believe it’s possible to reach a peace settlement with the Palestinians.
The widely held assumption of a victory by Netanyahu comes despite his grim record: There is no peace process, there is growing diplomatic isolation and a slowing economy, and his main ally has been forced to step down as foreign minister because of corruption allegations.
Even so, Netanyahu has managed to convince many Israelis that he offers a respectable choice by projecting experience, toughness and great powers of communication in both native Hebrew and flawless American English.
He was also handed a gift by the opposition. Persistent squabbling among an array of parties in the moderate camp has made this the first election in decades without two clear opposing candidates for prime minister. Even Netanyahu’s opponents have suggested his victory is inevitable.
“His rivals are fragmented,” said Yossi Sarid, a dovish former Cabinet minister who now writes a column for the Haaretz newspaper. “He benefits by default,” he told the Associated Press in an interview.
The confusion and hopelessness that now characterize the issue of peace with the Palestinians has cost the moderates their historical campaign focus.
Netanyahu has maintained a lead with a message that the country needs a tough-minded and experienced leader to face down dangers including the Iranian nuclear program, potentially loose chemical weapons in Syria and the rise of fundamentalist Islam in Egypt and other countries in the Arab Spring.
By comparison, the Palestinian issue seems less important to many Israelis.
Critics warn that Israelis are ignoring the issue at their peril. First, there are increasing signs that the current lull in violence may be temporary – both because the Palestinian street is getting frustrated and because Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority may cease the security cooperation that even Israeli officials have credited with the halt in violence.