We’re still about two and half months before the Israeli elections, but the polling has begun in earnest. Haaretz is showing the Likud party having pulled out in front of Tzipi Livni’s Kadima party by six seats, compared with polls a few weeks ago showing them tied. In the meantime, however, three very big things have happened.
First, Likud has added to its ranks a series of impressive candidates with a reputation of integrity–Benjamin Begin, Dan Meridor, Moshe Yaalon, and others–setting the Likud off as a contrast against the corruption-tainted Kadima party currently in power.
Second, the global financial crisis has cause many Israelis to refocus their thoughts on the economy, and no party leader has Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu’s reputation for economic decisionmaking.
Finally, the election of Barack Obama may well be triggering a kind of hawkish backlash among Israelis. Fearing that the new administration will pressure Israel to make concessions, Israelis might increasingly see in Netanyahu the necessary bulwark against international pressure.
Yet probably the most fascinating change has been the emergence of a new Netanyahu, one who is capable of remaining silent as his opponents sink deeper into their own muck. Bibi is respected but not always liked, and while he makes a stellar presentation in English, in Hebrew he often comes across as untrustworthy. His political reinvention has been dramatic over the past few years, his silence met with gratitude, his record appreciated, and the new polls reflect all this. The upcoming election is, to use a phrase loved by Americans, his to lose.