As the Israeli general election of Jan. 22, 2013 draws near, the major question in Israeli politics is whether the campaign will be dominated by foreign policy and security concerns or domestic issues. Because of the recent history of Israel’s conflicts in Gaza and southern Lebanon, as well as recent shift in the regional landscape, an emphasis on security issues would help the incumbent government headed by Likud leader and prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. On the other hand, a focus on domestic issues, such as rising prices, an increase in income inequality, the unfairly shared burden of military service and conflict between secular and Orthodox Jews, would benefit both Shelly Yacimovich, the leader of Israel’s Labor Party, and Yair Lapid, head of the new Yesh Atid (“There is a Future”) party. Another issue that could become salient in the campaign is the deterioration of U.S.-Israeli and European Union-Israeli relations caused by the newly announced Netanyahu program of settlement building in East Jerusalem and on the West Bank, including the E-1 corridor between the Jewish West Bank settlement of Maaleh Adumim and East Jerusalem. This issue could aid former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, whose newly created Tnuah (“Movement”) Party has drawn followers and leaders from both the now almost defunct Kadima Party headed by Shaul Mofaz and the Labor Party by emphasizing the peace process and the need for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Security and Foreign Policy Concerns
The dilemma facing Yacimovich, Lapid and Livni is that over the past 12 years, since the outbreak of the second Palestinian Intifada in September 2000, the Israeli public has moved to the right politically, appears to have soured on the peace process and has elected coalition governments that emphasized security concerns. This was demonstrated in the decisive victory of then-Likud leader Ariel Sharon over Labor Party leader Ehud Barak in the February 2001 elections, which took place as the intifada intensified. Sharon subsequently decided to withdraw unilaterally from Gaza in 2005, primarily to preserve the Jewish nature of the State of Israel, but also to facilitate the peace process. He formed the Kadima Party, which drew support from both Labor and Likud, to undertake the withdrawal. Sharon’s policy, which involved pulling both Israeli settlements and military bases out of Gaza, proved to be a failure in terms of Israel’s security: Hamas, which took over the Gaza Strip in June 2007, stepped up the firing of missiles into southern Israel from Gaza, necessitating a major military attack by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) into Gaza, Operation Cast Lead, in December 2008-January 2009.