Candidates and Israeli election polls summary

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This is a good summary of the possible outcomes and an intro of the three key candidates.

Mike Ghouse

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The Daily Telegraph

By , Jerusalem
7:04PM GMT 14 Mar 2015
With portraits of the late Menachem Begin on prominent display, the bustling Jerusalem market should have been comfortable home turf for Benjamin Netanyahu.

More than 30 years after he left office, Begin, the founding father of Israel’s Right-wing Likud party and one of the country’s most distinguished prime ministers, is still revered in Mahane Yehuda’s warren of fruit stalls, coffee shops and fishmongers.
Yet last week, Mr Netanyahu – Begin’s successor as premier and Likud leader – entered this once solid party stronghold not as conquering hero but as a supplicant uncertain of a welcome in his own house.
Ahead of this Tuesday’s general election, the prime minister was so worried about his plunging popularity that his aides tried to stop the media from attending what should have been an ideal photo opportunity.
With opinion polls showing Likud falling further behind the Left-wing Zionist Union, Mr Netanyahu apparently feared being accosted by voters angry about Israel’s spiralling cost of living. He may have been right to fret.
By all accounts, the prime minister was greeted politely, but not ecstatically. Some traders were less than pleased to see him. “He came in with bodyguards and they closed down a big section of the market. I was really p—– off,” said Ovadia Pakhshishan, the manager of a shop selling vegetables and spices who said he would be voting for Shas, an ultra-Orthodox religious party.
So where did it all go wrong for Israel’s longest-serving prime minister since David Ben-Gurion? Mr Netanyahu has achieved three terms totalling nine years in office in a political system notorious for its volatility.
But his sure touch seems to have deserted him.
Moshe Shahar, 67, the owner of a kosher delicatessen, said he would not vote for Mr Netanyahu because he had abandoned the path of Begin. “Netanyahu came here and now he can retire and go home,” said Mr Shahar. “We have many poor people in this country, especially Holocaust survivors. He does nothing to help them. He is selfish, he doesn’t care about anyone else. Whoever votes for him, gets Sara Netanyahu [the prime minister’s deeply unpopular wife].”
The comments illustrate Mr Netanyahu’s predicament in the run-up to a poll that he deliberately triggered by sacking two centrist ministers, thereby ensuring the early collapse of his own coalition, which, in theory, could have governed until 2017.
That move was prompted by the calculation that he would win an increased mandate in fresh elections.
Mr Netanyahu wanted to campaign solely on national security and emerge strong enough to form a more stable Right-wing government.
Accordingly, the prime minister has run a campaign centred almost exclusively on Iran’s nuclear programme, which he believes is a threat to Israel’s existence. The focal point was a trip to Washington to address the US Congress and warn against President Barack Obama’s efforts to negotiate a deal with Tehran.
But the result has been plunging poll figures and the impression of a leader disconnected from the daily concerns of his people, who are more focused on the economy and the gap between rich and poor than the intentions of distant Iran.
Three separate opinion polls on Friday – the last day on which such surveys could be published – showed Likud trailing four seats behind the Zionist Union, an alliance between the Labour party led by Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah party.
The Zionist Union’s internal polls show an even bigger gap of up to seven seats, insiders say. Having failed to publish an election manifesto, Likud officials are now panicking as support haemorrhages away.
Mr Netanyahu’s political antennae seemed to fail him last month when he responded to an official report on rising house prices and Israel’s overheated property market. “When we talk about housing prices, about the cost of living, I do not for a second forget about life itself,” he said. “The biggest threat to our life at the moment is a nuclear-armed Iran.”
The remark seemed to capture the gap between Mr Netanyahu’s priorities and those of ordinary voters.
“Until three or four years ago, the most salient issue in Israeli politics was foreign policy and the peace process,” said Sam Lehman-Wilzig, a political science professor at Bar Ilan University in Tel Aviv. “But that changed pretty dramatically four years ago, starting with the mass social protests that were staged in 2011. Since then, the big issue has been socio-economic inequality instead of foreign policy. That’s why Netanyahu is much weaker. The only economic policy he has is hyper-capitalism with a capital C.”

Another corrosive factor is an arrogant public persona that leaves Mr Netanyahu widely disliked. There have been a series of embarrassing revelations – supported by a recent report from Israel’s state comptroller – about how he and his wife, Sara, squandered public funds on their official and personal residences.
“No solutions are being proposed other than ‘Trust me, I’m the strong guy’,” said Prof Reuven Hazan, of Hebrew University in Jerusalem. “Herzog and Livni might be nice people, but nobody thinks he [Netanyahu] is a nice guy – not in his own party, not in his campaign.
“Netanyahu seems to have this messianic approach that he was put here to save Israel from Iran. Most Israelis have heard that for far too long and don’t buy into it any more.”
The conflict with the Palestinians has been conspicuously absent from the campaign, with even the Zionist Union giving little prominence to its vague pledge to revive peace talks.
That silence leaves many Israelis uneasy, even if there is little faith in the prospect of peace. Memories are still fresh of last summer’s devastating conflict in Gaza, in which more than 2,200 Palestinians and 70 Israelis were killed.
Many fear the Palestinian Authority’s impending membership of the International Criminal Court, which could see Israeli soldiers pursued for alleged war crimes.
“We feel Israel is isolated from the rest of the world,” said Rafael Gaisenberg, 53, an engineer attending an election rally for Mr Herzog and Ms Livni last week. “I think the isolation is mainly due to Bibi [Mr Netanyahu’s nickname] and his policy that we are going to fight the world and we need nobody’s help. There are at least going to be some negotiations and some confidence and co-operation if the Zionist Union wins.”
The sting in the tail is that – for all Mr Netanyahu’s woes – it might not. The prime minister still has a bedrock of loyalists, including Avraham Levy, 62, a fruit seller at Mehane Yehuda market.
“I’ll vote for him wholeheartedly and with joy,” said Mr Levy. “The Zionist Union is ahead and the media is against him. But the problem in Israel is security and it costs a lot of money. I think people aren’t stupid and they see there’s no alternative to him.”
Aided by such support and Israel’s purely proportional voting system, Mr Netanyahu could yet hold power, not least because former supporters might vote for other Right-wing or religious parties, which are more natural coalition partners of Likud than of the Zionist Union.
“I don’t think he is finished,” said Menachem Klein, an Israeli political analyst and a visiting fellow at King’s College, London. “He can still end up leading the largest party and definitely has the easier path to forming a coalition bloc. So he has very close optional partners. The question is how many seats these partners can win as a bloc.
“On the other hand, if Herzog and Livni are the biggest party by three or four seats, it will be difficult for the centrist parties to disregard the public sentiment that it’s time for Netanyahu to go.”
Tzipi Livni

Justice minister
2013 – 2014
Foreign minister
2006 – 2009
Party: Hatnuah (Zionist Union)
Tzipi Livni began her political career as a member of Likud and a follower of Benjamin Netanyahu, before performing a volte face and becoming one of his most dedicated opponents.

Like Mr Herzog, she is an aristocrat of Israeli politics: her father was a senior commander in the “Irgun”, the Jewish underground which helped to bomb the British out of Palestine in the 1940s.
Born in 1958, Ms Livni began her career as an intelligence officer in the Mossad, Israel’s version of MI6. She later entered the Knesset as a member of Likud and a protégé of Ariel Sharon, then a hardline prime minister. 

But Ms Livni became less hawkish in office, supporting the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 and leaving Likud to join the centrist Kadima party. She came within a whisker of defeating Mr Netanyahu in the 2009 election, before forming her own Hatnuah movement. Along the way, she served as foreign minister and agreed to join Mr Netanyahu’s coalition as justice minister in 2013.
The rivalry between them was intense and Mr Netanyahu sacked her from the government last year. Ms Livni, fiercely ambitious, stands to become prime minister for the second half of a four-year term if “Zionist Union” wins the election.
Isaac Herzog
Leader Labour party
Leader Labour party
2013 – present
Social services minister
2007 – 2011
Party: Labour (Zionist Union)
Until as recently as 2013, Isaac Herzog was a second-rank politician who almost nobody saw as a future prime minister of Israel. In that year, he became leader of the Labour party and the polls suggest that he now stands on the brink of unseating Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mr Herzog has benefited from a makeover designed to spruce up his nerdish appearance and improve his high-pitched speaking voice. 

He may not look like a leader, but Mr Herzog comes from the aristocracy of Israeli politics. His father, Chaim, was the sixth president of Israel and his grandfather was the Chief Rabbi. His uncle by marriage was Abba Eban, who was Israel’s face to the world during almost a decade as foreign minister in the 1960s and 70s.

Mr Herzog, known to Israelis by his nickname “Bougie”, was born in 1960 and entered the Knesset in 2003. He has taken Labour into an alliance with a centrist party led by a former rival, Tzipi Livni, to create the “Zionist Union”. 

If this block wins enough seats to lead the next government, Mr Herzog will be prime minister for the first half of the four-year term, handing over to Ms Livni for the second half.
enjamin Netanyahu
Prime Minister
2009 – present and 1996 – 1999
Party: Likud
Benjamin Netanyahu is Israel’s longest-serving prime minister since David Ben Gurion. He came to power for the first time in 1996 and held the premiership until his crushing defeat in the 1999 election.
He achieved a political comeback in 2009 and has been prime minister ever since. But opinion polls suggest that his Right-wing Likud party is heading for defeat in this election, confronting Mr Netanyahu with one of the most bruising struggles of his career.
Born in 1949, Mr Netanyahu studied in America and served in Israel’s version of the SAS, before making his reputation in the 1980s as an accomplished diplomat. In 1993, he became leader of Likud at the age of just 44, winning his first election at 47.
In total, Mr Netanyahu has spent nine years as prime minister, but his governments have shared a number of features. In every case, he has alienated the American president, opposed progress towards peace with the Palestinians, continued to expand Jewish settlements in occupied land – save for a pause in 2010 – and offered chilling warnings of the threat posed by Iran.
Mr Netanyahu is a polarising figure and this election amounts to a referendum on his premiership.

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