The fallout from the war in Gaza will undoubtedly be the most important issue in the Israeli election. Hardliners say Israel had no choice but to attack Hamas; critics say the assault was ill-directed. Either way, peace seems as far away as ever. As the campaign enters its final days, it seems public opinion has hardened, leading to some expected, and some surprising, predictions.
“Bibi is the best, because he is not scared of the Arabs,” said one young man.
But a woman disagreed:
“I will vote for Barak because he supported the war, and even though we stopped short, we achieved some of our goals. It was 100 percent okay.”
Some have predicted Labour’s Ehud Barak will be Tuesday’s big loser. His poll ratings were on the floor, but as Defence Minister he may yet benefit from Israel’s hardline shift.
“Before the elections it looked like he would be devastated in the elections, that his party would be almost erased,” said political analyst Gil Hoffman. “But his support doubled immediately the war started, and he took a lot of votes from Tzipi Livni, the leader of the Kadima party.”
Livni has the most to lose. Having taken over Kadima, and tried to present herself as a strong leader, the war has seen her political rivals gaining ground, even overtaking her.
“Netanyahu, the leader of the Likud party also took votes from Livni because the population moved to the right, which is something that happens in war, so she lost on both fronts,” said Hoffman.
In such a tight race, it seems many Israeli voters want a strong figure as their prime minister. Benjamin Netanyahu’s supporters say he is that man, and he may even be helped by the world financial crisis.
“The global situation, whereby economics dominates, also serves Netanyahu, because he, by far, is the only politically-competent economic leader that Israel has seen in recent years,” said Amotz Asa-El, a columnist at the Jerusalem Post.
The ceasefire in Gaza remains fragile, and Hamas is still firing rockets. Security is the dominant issue for Israelis. Voters must decide which party leader is their preferred strongman, or woman.