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Israeli Election Fever Burns in Turtle Bay

Although November 5, 2019 is the statutory date by which Israel must hold its national elections, the day the nation chooses its next government can come much sooner if the parliament so-declares, a decision actually instigated by the prime minister. If, for instance, a sitting prime minister believes his/her political strength can only dissipate during that time, it’s virtually axiomatic that a date much closer will be set. Whether and when this happens is traditionally presaged by the body language of the body politic and its players that gradually comes into focus. First indications typically involve the re-emergence of actors not seen on center-stage in some time followed quickly by high-profile photo-ops, such as opposition head Tzipi Livni’s tête-à-tête with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Ironically, Livni’s visit coming on the heels of the even higher-profile peek at former prime minister Ehud Olmert fresh from a jail term sitting with and praising Abbas. The two Israelis are former political allies, both having bolted life-long allegiances to the Likud Party to join the break-away Kadima party of the late Ariel Sharon, neither able to sustain the new entity after serving as two-thirds of the brain trust that maneuvered Israel through the 2006 Lebanon War against Hizbullah. Olmert served time for bribery and corruption while Livni remained ineffective until asserting herself into the leadership of the opposition when the elected head left to run the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency. Another indicator of parties whipped into election-ready shape is Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid (There is a future) party. The former television personality who has been unable to sustain the interest he generated to be the story of the 2013 election, has introduced two new party leaders aimed at attracting voters affiliated with religious Zionism – a new market for Lapid, who is able to personally appoint at-will members of his party’s list of those who would represent it in the parliament without the necessity of a primary blurring the incentive to become a party leader. Despite several ongoing corruption investigations, incumbent Netanyahu continues to poll with strong results.

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