For the past 43 months, Israel has had a series of elections that produced either inconclusive results, or short-lived, unstable coalitions. Next month, Israelis will go to the polls for what they are calling “round five.” One thing, however, is different: Benjamin Netanyahu, after twelve years as prime minister, is no longer the incumbent. As a result, he is running a campaign very different from those he ran in the previous four elections. Haviv Rettig Gur explains:
Netanyahu has never won a majority in [opinion] polls that tested “fitness to be prime minister.” He leads the pack of party leaders, but never passes the 50-percent mark. A plurality is significant in a multiparty system, but it’s not enough if your opponents unite.
On August 3, for the first time in years, Netanyahu presented a detailed economic program that the party would be running on. The campaign wouldn’t be about Netanyahu himself or the danger posed by a sinister leftist-Arab alliance, but about a “return to stability” and a commitment to long-delayed reforms.
He laid out a wish list of said reforms: reducing tariffs and import regulations to allow cheap imports to drive down consumer prices; streamlining the housing-construction approval process; lowering the cost of electricity, gasoline, and water (apparently through subsidies or price controls); subsidizing land purchases for young people seeking to build homes; freezing municipal property taxes for a year to help offset inflation; and most dramatically, lowering the age of free public education from three years to zero and offering state-funded daycare from birth.
For the first time since the 2015 election, Likud wants to talk about substance. It has also, for the first time in memory, turned forcefully against its most aggressive and disreputable activists.