UPDATED AT 9:50pm ISRAEL TIME. (Jerusalem, Israel) — As I wrote on March 9th, polls have been breaking against Prime Minister Netanyahu and his Likud Party, raising the very real possibility that Netanyahu will not return as premier after Tuesday’s elections. I was not predicting “Bibi” would lose. He has certainly shown an uncanny to regain the political momentum over the years, and he could do so again.
But every political analyst in Israel now sees a distinct possibility that a new PM will emerge. This has drawn increasing focus on Isaac “Buji” Herzog, the head of the Labor Party and Israel’s opposition leader. Is Herzog ready to be Israel’s next Prime Minister? Can this quiet, self-effacing son of Israel’s first President (Chaim Herzog) be trusted to protect the country from numerous and rising threats, from Iran and ISIS to Hezbollah, Hamas and the PLO? Does he have what it takes to stand up against mounting international pressures to give up more and more Israeli territory in the ever-elusive search for peace? And will Israeli voters remove Benjamin Netanyahu — who is serving his ninth year as premier — from power and put the untested Herzog in the top spot?
These are several of the big questions on people minds here as the last day of campaigning wraps up. We are now just a few hours away from the polls opening here on Tuesday morning for what very well could prove the most consequential Israeli national elections in a generation.
I just landed at Ben Gurion International Airport. In a short while I will be on the “Sean Hannity Radio Show” to preview the Israeli elections. Over the next 48 hours, I will be blogging and Tweeting extensively on the race. But here are a few initial thoughts:
- The big, breaking news here tonight is that the Herzog-Livni ticket is imploding at the 11th hour — Tzipi Livni is actually stepping off the ticket in a completely stunning political move. The two have been running for the last several months as a team in a “rotation agreement.” That is, “buy one, get one free.” If you vote for their combined faction (two political parties running together) and they win the most seats in the Knesset (parliament) then Herzog had promised to serve as Prime Minister for two years, and Livni for the second two years. But Livni is very unpopular. Within their parties, the rotation agreement was very unpopular. There was growing pressure to remove her from the ticket, but some strategists on the left feared doing so this late in the game would reflect badly on Herzog and raise questions about his judgment and ability to lead. Nevertheless, at the 11th hour, Livni announced that she will no longer be part of the rotation agreement. She says she’s dropping off voluntarily, yet some say Herzog pushed her off. This is a late-breaking story. The details are not yet clear. Neither are the implications. Will Herzog be helped or hurt by this move? A highly dramatic election has just gotten far more dramatic.
- Herzog says, “I trust the Obama Administration to get a good deal” on the Iran nuclear issue. In a must-read interview in The Atlantic, the left-wing Israeli opposition leader indicates that he trusts the direction that President Obama is going in with regards to Iran. This is a huge dividing line for Israelis who increasingly distrust the American administration and fear Iran is being given a green light to build not just one nuclear weapon but a whole arsenal.
- Herzog proudly says he will divide Jerusalem and roll Israel back to the pre-1967 lines (or close) to create a sovereign Palestinian state. In another must-read interview, Herzog is not shy about saying he believes Israel should give up part of its own capital to the PLO. This is another huge dividing line for Israelis.
- That said, Herzog has not talked much about following Obama’s lead on Iran or dividing Jerusalem but rather focused on socio-economic issues. The theory of his campaign has been to blur differences with Netanyahu on security matters, and accentuate them on domestic and economic affairs. But several interviews Herzog has given has given us a clearer window on his instincts and objectives, and could rattle voters as they head to the polls.
- UPDATE: On Monday, Netanyahu said he would not allow a sovereign Palestinian state to be established if he is re-elected. This is a change in his position. He previously stated that he would support a demilitarized Palestinian state in its leadership fully acknowledged Israel as a Jewish state. Over the past several years, however, he has become convinced the current Palestinian leadership is not ready, willing or able to make such a commitment. “I think that anyone who moves to establish a Palestinian state and evacuate territory gives territory away to radical Islamist attacks against Israel,” Netanyahu said. “The left has buried its head in the sand time and after time and ignores this, but we are realistic and understand.”
Please pray for the people of Israel as we head to the polls on Tuesday. Please pray that above all the Lord’s will is done. As we read in Daniel chapter two, the Lord removes kings and establishes kings according to His sovereign will. Amen.
[Stay tuned to this blog and my Twitter account for updates]
- Livni forgoes rotating premiership with Herzog — Zionist Union’s No. 2 drops bombshell 12 hours before election (Times of Israel)
- Livni gives up power-sharing deal with Herzog — One day to go: Netanyahu: Livni giving up power-sharing deal Zionist Union leaders are liars, can’t handle pressure; Meretz chief: Herzog will not be PM if we don’t pass electoral threshold; Netanyahu: Zionist Union will turn East Jerusalem into Hamastan B; Ehud Barak endorses Herzog. (Haaretz)