JERUSALEM (EJP)---In the wake of Benjamin Netanyahu’s somewhat anticipated call for early national elections, the Israeli Prime Minister met with President Shimon Peres Wednesday to discuss the way forward, as Israel responded to his plea for a “renewed mandate”.
Israel Radio reported the Prime Minister told Peres his “main concern will continue to be strengthening the security of citizens”, after two separate instances of Israeli airspace being infiltrated in the space of as many days brought high alert to the country.
Peres responded to Netanyahu’s announcement statement of Tuesday, when he claimed the move for early elections was a “responsible” way of forestalling the inevitability of party political lines being drawn at a risk to the national interest and economy, by calling for the election period to “be an example of democracy and civility, without slander, with cross-party respect”.
Responding to the myriad threats to Israel’s security, posed in particular by Iran, the President preached optimism to an Israeli electorate faced with the deciding vote on serious issues at the polls in early 2013: “We have our enemies, but also no shortage of options and opportunities”.
Netanyahu’s statement came amidst a background of reports of in-fighting between the premier and his defence secretary Ehud Barak over Israeli policy regarding the Iranian nuclear threat and the inability of the various coalition partners to reach agreement on the proposed new budget for the coming year.
Arguing that continue failure to do so, would place Israel at a similar risk to the "crumbling economies of Europe", Netanyahu added that "in the face of the regional uphaeaval and the global economic crisis, we must continue to uphold responsible economic and security policies because many challenges still lay before us."
The response from the media was disparate, as Israeli daily Ma’ariv insisted that, regardless of Netanyahu’s professed reasons for calling an election, it wasn’t a decision motivated by economic concerns, rather than to reassert his power in the face of a rumoured political comeback by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
The paper claimed the short timeframe proposed in order to send Israel to the polls was evidence of the premier’s plan to “catch his rivals unprepared and steal another term before it is too late”.
Olmert was forced to resign from the leadership of former coalition partners Kadima in 2008, and with it relinquish the premiership, after corruption allegations threatened to bring down the party.
His near exoneration last month by an Israeli court, however, has led many political insiders to predict his return to front-line politics, a possibility that has its share of supporters within the Knesset. Following the collapse of current Kadima head Shaul Mofaz’s short-lived national unity agreement with Netanyahu, predictions of the likely demise of Kadima at forthcoming polls have been rife, and criticially, Olmert has yet to rule out his political comeback.
A Haaretz poll Wednesday, however, claimed that no individual political threat exists to challenge Netanyahu’s stronghold at the summit of Israeli politics, with results showing Netanyahu claims 57% of electoral support, compared to 28% for another former Kadima head Tzipi Livni, who was herself forced out of power by Mofaz’s rise to leadership in March, and 24% for Olmert.
A similar poll conducted only two weeks ago, showed a lower approval rating for Netanyahu of only 45%, the interim increase most commonly attributed to his firm address of the UN General assembly in New York at the end of last month.
The fact that neither Livni or Olmert have officially declared their candidacy could well explain their poor showing, however, and should either formally enter the race, it could well threaten Netanyahu’s dominance at the polls.
The majority of political analysts agreed that party lines are sure to shift as new candidacies and party manifestos are announced, with the main distinguishing factors likely to arise from whether the parties prioritise security and diplomacy, a likely focus for centrist groups, or economic issues. Netanyahu however delayed revealing his focus for the campaign, insisting his main priorities would be both “fortifying the security of Israel and boosting the Israeli economy”.
Israel’s electoral system is based on nationwide proportional system, meaning that any party receiving more than the 2% threshold of national votes will receive an equivalent proportion of the 120 seats in the Knesset , the Israeli parliament.
Wednesday’s Haaretz poll suggested Netanyahu’s Likud party could increase its share of parliamentary representation to 68 seats.
Reports have claimed a likely date for the election will be January 22, which has allegedly been approved by all coalition partners, coming only two days after the inauguration of the US President, following their respective November 6 poll.
Netanyahu is expected to finalise the election date before Knesset convenes for what is expected to be the last time of the parliament’s winter session Monday.
It is thought the Prime Minister that an official bill for early elections can be approved by the cabinet in its weekly meeting on Sunday.