As the formal election season has just begun in Israel after the submission of party registration and electoral list documents, it is essential to understand the fundamental question which will shape how most Israelis vote come March 17th.
Fundamental to whether Israelis end up on the political Right supporting the Revisionists of Likud and Prime Minister Netanyahu, or on the Left with the Labor Party of Isaac Herzog (or in the myriad of other parties) is how they view Israel itself. Broadly speaking there are two views which have prevailed within the Zionist movement and in Israel since 1967.
Israel – Strong, Secure and Sacrificing
To those on the political Left, Israel today is considered a work near completion, at least in terms of security.
They see in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) the best fighting force in the Middle East. They see old enemies such as Hezbollah utterly consumed with the war in Syria, or in the case of Hamas under increasing pressure from the anti-Islamist Egyptian government. Thanks to the Iron Dome and other technological advances, they see the rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza as a decreasing threat, largely limited in danger to the communities in southern Israel. They are distrustful of the repeated warnings from the Netanyahu government about the Iranian nuclear program, seeing it as overblown rhetoric from a leader out of ideas.
There is something else that comes with this sense that Israel is strong and able to defend herself against all current enemies. Those on the Left see the Israeli presence in the West Bank as unhelpful and unnecessary, provoking Palestinian hatred for the sake of defending settlements they consider strategically and at times morally indefensible. Seeing themselves in a position of strength, they believe Israel must make sacrifices to achieve peace and stability. As they believe themselves to be the powerful side in the ongoing conflict, in the mind of the Israeli Left only the State of Israel is able to jump-start peace by behaving magnanimously and softening their negotiating position.
Israel – Vulnerable and Vindicated
The view of most on the political Right in Israel is extremely different. To most of those in Likud and some in ideologically similar parties, the Left is deluded when it sees Israel as an impregnable fortress in the face of her enemies.
The Revisionist camp believes that the Israeli-Arab confrontation is not one over land or historical grievance, but an ideological and religious (at least on one side) battle, in which the Jewish State can never be fully accepted in an Arab and Muslim region. They see the innovation of Hamas using tunnels to launch terror attacks within Israel as proof of the ingenuity of their enemies. For them Hezbollah is likely to turn on Israel in the near future to try and reassert some sort of moral authority among the non-Shia Arab world after their butchery on behalf of Assad for the past four years. They revere the IDF but believe that in an asymmetric war it will never be able to take the steps it needs to deliver what could truly be considered a victory. Fundamentally they believe in maintaining Israel as a conventional weapon hegemon in military affairs, and doing whatever it takes to prevent Iran arming itself with the unconventional means to threaten the Jewish State.
To the Revisionist mind any compromise on the Palestinian issue or the wider conflict with the Arab world will be taken as a sign of weakness, and will be repaid with violence and aggression by those who the world demands Israel make peace with. To them, Israel is better off strong and unpopular than compromising and received plaudits from the Nobel Prize committee.
How will it translate?
When Israelis get into the voting booth they will have to decide for themselves which vision of Israel they find most persuasive. In a region that seems to be collapsing under the weight of Islamic State and the brutal Assad regime, will Israelis vote for those who say Israel is safe and able to sacrifice?
On the other hand, with civilian casualties low and a sense of self-confidence among most Israelis, will most of them come to the conclusion that they need the strength and single-minded focus on security of the Right wing?
In a few short months it will become clear, but any interested observer must first understand what are the real motivations behind Israeli voting intentions.