As rockets fall on Ashkelon and the children of Sderot run for their shelters, the Kadima-Labor cabinet approved a new 650 million NIS Prime Minister's residence for Ehud Olmert to entertain his foreign backers in.
Kadima's incredible corruption and legacy of failure has not prevented it from polling as the number 2 party. Not even the 650 Million House that Olmert Built appears to be stopping Kadima.
The current polls, as flawed as they may be, suggest that too few Israelis have learned anything from the past election. Kadima, whose sole accomplishment was the ethnic cleansing of the Jews of Gaza, followed by Hamas' victory, remains a viable party. Even though Kadima MK's openly mocked the idea that Hamas would begin firing rockets into Israel, there are apparently no shortage of voters willing to cast their ballots for them, some without financial incentives.
The obvious Kadima base remains the Arab sector, and the left wing, which has all but abandoned traditional progressive parties such as Meretz, because Kadima can deliver the kind of self-destructive policies that Meretz and the Arab parties cannot.
The Likud under Netanyahu is still likely to win, but Netanyahu continues his trend of rubbing everyone the wrong way, and taking refuge from taking a stand against anything, except giving up the Golan and Olmert's mansion. As usual Netanyahu's only real draw is that he's the only non-left wing candidate who can become Prime Minister. And as usual that isn't really enough.
The genuinely sad part is that Netanyahu has stood for Likud in election after election because there just isn't anyone better. Netanyahu is a capable candidate, but the eloquence that English speaking viewers associate with him, never quite works in Hebrew. He's always running for President in a country that's used to Prime Minister, and suspicious of the arrogance and elitism he can't help projecting.
Lacking either the gregariousness of the labor socialists, or the natural humility of a Begin, Netanyahu finds himself out of step with Israeli culture, and unwilling to distinguish himself by taking a genuinely controversial stand that he can't immediately take back. Netanyahu might be the best thing for Israel, if only his spine was half as good as his brain. But time and time again, he has failed to connect at a gut level with Israelis, instead following foreign political consultants, and trying to hold an imaginary center. That has been his undoing before, and it may well be his undoing this time around as well.
Yisrael Beiteinu meanwhile is set to win big, passing Labor, for as much as 18 Knesset seats. There's no doubt that much of this boost has come because Avigdor Lieberman talks a good game on terrorism with lots of aggressive rhetoric. Unfortunately talk is all he's good for. Lieberman continues to support carving up Israel to make way for a Palestinian Arab state. Yisrael Beiteinu was part of a coalition government that was responsible for this mess. There is no doubt that if Kadima win, Lieberman and Yisrael Beiteinu will be right back in a coalition government dedicated to perpetuating the very same disasters of the last few years.
As immigrant parties devoid of any principle but the basest greed, while pandering to their own captive audiences with "We're Standing up to the Man" rhetoric, Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu are grim reflections of each other. Avigdor Lieberman and Ovadya Yosef too are ugly mirror images, their outraged rhetoric concealing an open contempt for their gullible followers.
With them plus Bayit Yehudi, Kadima can let the Israeli public vent its frustrations by casting putatively right wing votes, only to find that the parties they wasted their votes on will still be part of a Kadima led coalition.
If Lieberman and Ovadya and Bayit Yehudi can pull enough votes away from Likud, Olmert and Livni are back in business and running Israel again. That is the nightmare scenario.
With Ichud Leumi polling too low to make any serious difference in the Knesset, there really is no choice but to hold your nose and vote Likud again, and hope that's enough to stop both the left wing and the phony right wing parties.
Shas' notorious willingness to prostitute itself, so long as the money keeps coming in, means that it can be a player in virtually any government put together by any of the major parties. Much the same goes for Yisrael Beiteinu, as well as any of the non-Zionist religious parties. Labor is set to achieve a new low by becoming a fourth ranked party behind Yisrael Beiteinu. While this demonstrates the growing power of Russian immigrants, it also highlights the growing control Russia wields over Israel's domestic policy, as well as the tension between religious and secular voters that makes any broad right wing coalition that much harder to maintain.
The Likud continues to be crippled by an inability to reinvent itself, which Netanyahu's eternal candidacies make all too obvious. A shinier logo and a website design borrowed from Obama will not achieve that goal. Likud's real problem is that it doesn't stand for much of anything, except a middle of the road approach, something that impresses Americans more than it does Israelis, or anyone in the Middle East.
Ever since Rabin ate a bullet while ambling toward his limo, or at some uncertain time on the ride there, the Likud lost what was left of its guts, and has worked hard to assure everyone that it isn't extremist at all. Briefly Sharon turned that around, vigorously smacking around Yasir Arafat, only to fall prey to his own moral corruption and medical problems, but not before trashing both Likud and Labor. Since then Likud has been playing Banquo, emerging as the Ghost at the Feast, to haunt everyone by reminding them of its achievements in overthrowing socialist rule, and driving Israel toward a free market economy and an aggressive posture toward terrorism. Unfortunately Israelis have no historical memory and no one is paying attention to the Likud anymore.
Talking to teenagers who know their hip hop a lot better than they do their Trumpledor about the ideas behind the Likud is a virtual dead end, and isn't being done anyway. While the right wing squabbles among itself, the left wing headed by Olmert have been gorging themselves on Israel's carcass. The rest of the party system is more splintered than ever, with many players all too willing to play on ethnic and gender dissatisfactions, without actually delivering anything. The pot simmers and boils, and despite the terrible danger Israel is in, Kadima is within sight of another victory.