Reuters reports: In a rare TV debate ahead of Israel’s tightly contested election on March 17, eight party leaders from across the political spectrum held forth for 90 minutes in a noisy, argumentative discussion of Israeli policy.
While social issues and the economy were grappled over at length, the conflict with the Palestinians and efforts to forge a two-state solution to the crisis — the issue which much of the world has looked to the region to resolve for the better part of 30 years — drew little new comment or insight.
The word “peace” was mentioned five times, three of those by the only Arab candidate taking part, while Naftali Bennett, the leader of the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home party, declared he would never let the Palestinians have their own state.
In part, the focus was understandable — Israeli voters are most concerned about house prices and the cost of living. But it underlines how dim prospects now are for any progress in resolving perhaps the world’s most intractable conflict.
“The Palestinian issue, as much as it is crucial, is not perceived as existential, which is the case with Iran,” said Reuven Hazan, a professor of political science at Hebrew University and a specialist on the Middle East.
“And it is not perceived as manageable over the next three years, which something like the economy is.”
Instead, the election has become a two-horse, two-issue race, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is seeking a fourth term, emphasizing the threat from Iran and regional Islamist groups, and the center-left opposition criticizing his perceived failures on social and economic policy.
The latest polls published on Tuesday put the center-left ahead, predicting it will win 24 or 25 seats in the 120-member Knesset, against 21 for Netanyahu’s Likud party.
Other polls show a tighter race, with each of the main parties expected to win 23 or 24 seats. As has always been the case in Israel’s 67-year history, no party will secure a majority, making coalition negotiations critical.
Given his experience of cobbling together partnerships and the fact that there are more parties on the right around which to build an alliance, Netanyahu could still return as prime minister, even if his party does not win the election. [Continue reading…]