Does the resumption this week of rocket fire from Gaza into Israel, in violation of the fragile and unofficial truce between Hamas and Jerusalem, signal a Hamas endorsement of Bibi Netanyahu for Israeli prime minister?
That’s the likely effect of renewed attacks on Israel on the eve of next Tuesday’s national elections. The rockets underscore that despite the beating Hamas took last month, the terror group still rules Gaza and can still make life miserable for Israelis, especially those living in the south.
Netanyahu supported the war effort but has been saying, before and after the three-week conflict, that he would topple Hamas from power. It’s likely that many Israelis will want him to try to do just that. And in the crazy-quilt world of Mideast politics, such talk makes him more — rather than less — appealing to Hamas, a group that opposes peace negotiations. And those talks would be that much more unlikely with Netanyahu in power.
Israelis tend to vote to the right when they are feeling insecure, and are inclined to “give peace a chance,” as John Lennon put it, when their lives are more at ease.
Netanyahu has been enjoying a comfortable lead in the polls for months, and even though Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who is running as the head of Labor, gained ground on the strength of the IDF’s performance in the Gaza conflict, it’s more likely that most Israeli would prefer that he keep his present post.
Tzipi Livni, the foreign minister and Kadima leader, didn’t really improve her standing among an electorate that credits her for being honest – no small thing in Israeli politics, especially when your opponents are Netanyahu and Barak. But she still appears to lack leadership qualities for the country’s top office.
This would not be the first time Palestinian terror played a significant role in an Israeli election. In 1996, Shimon Peres seemed likely to succeed the slain Yitzhak Rabin until a spate of PLO suicide bombings just before the election turned Israelis to Netanyahu, who won handily.
And in early 2001, incumbent Barak, who was ready to make major concessions at Camp David a few months earlier, was voted out of office by a wide margin with the onset of the second intifada. Ariel Sharon, Israel’s tough guy, was the big winner then.
All of which indicates that Israel’s enemies have a history of playing a pivotal role in the Jewish State’s elections.