Elections? Ooh, That’s Scary. Let’s Not.

Gershom Gorenberg

My new column, now up at The American Prospect. Enjoy. And please help keep the Prospect publishing.

Talk about a quick campaign. The latest one in Israel lasted about a week, and there wasn’t even an election at the end.

Just last weekend, local political commentators were enthusing about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s tactical brilliance in deciding on snap elections more than a year ahead of schedule. The opposition—particularly the centrist Kadima party—was unprepared. Polls purportedly proved that Netanyahu’s Likud would be the only party holding more than a quarter the seats in the next parliament; all the rest would stand in line to join his coalition. An cabinet press release on Sunday named September 4 as election day.

Two days later, the nation awoke to news that Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz had cut a deal with Netanyahu to bring his party into the current coalition. Elections can wait till late 2013, as originally scheduled. Political commentators enthused again, this time about Netanyahu’s brilliance in co-opting one potential rival and frustrating others. Foreign analysts wondered whether Netanyahu’s deal with Mofaz, a former general, would promote or hinder an Israeli strike against Iran.

Brilliance, schmilliance. Panicked zigzags are a prominent part of Netanyahu’s resume. Fright best explains his decision to hold elections and his quick reversal.  Despite foreign obsession with the Iran question, it was a consideration only in a negative sense: Facing a veto from Washington and harsh criticism from ex-security officials, Netanyahu doesn’t really have a military option right now.  So it’s harder for him to use Iran to divert public attention from other issues.

Netanyahu hoped to run a quick campaign, heavy on horse-race reporting, light on substance, in which the inevitability of his victory became a reason to vote for him. But the week began with a rebellion in his own party, a crisis over settlements, bad economic news and the electoral upheaval in Europe. All signaled that the election was no safe bet.  He ran for cover.

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Read the rest here.