The biggest preoccupation of every Israeli is Security. Will their teenage children be able to go to the mall or to a discotheque without risking death? Will their children of military age have to put their lives on the line for the good of Israeli society? Will taking a bus be putting their lives in luck's hands?.
When it comes to security, the issue is for Israelis not an abstract issue but one with direct and personal consequences. Their recent experience has been that the evacuation of Lebanon (where some of them fought) did not bring peace to the northern border; quite the opposite: it brought the Hezbollah war in the summer of 2006. The evacuation of Gaza in 2005 – a place the vast majority of Israelis were happy to abandon- brought the establishment of an irredentist Jihadist regime intent on destroying the Jewish state. When one look at the issue from this perspective there is little wonder that the vast majority of Israelis oppose any further concession without some kind of reassurance; especially when the Muslim Brotherhood has gained power in Egypt and Jihadist elements are threatening the Jordanian regime and the Iranian regime openly boasts of its ability – and willingness – to “wipe off the Zionist entity”. Israel lives in a very though neighborhood and Israelis are very weary of the bullies living around them. No Israeli without strong military and/or security credentials will receive overwhelming support from the Israeli voters.
Then there is the issue of settlements. Most Israelis would be very happy if neither themselves nor their children will ever have to go back to the West Bank and perform the functions of an occupying army. Many Israelis, however, moved to areas right over the Green Line which are more suburbs of large urban centers than “settlements”. For most Israelis, these particular areas are just part of Israel and many moved there encouraged by government subsidies in a country where housing is not exactly cheap. But there are also those who went to live deep into the West Bank with the express purpose of making any territorial concession impossible; in their minds, they are returning to the Biblical heartland and are therefore strongly motivated to oppose any Israeli retreat in the West Bank. They pose, however, a difficult problem for Israel because of the resources (Human and Financial) necessary to protect them. These “ideological” settlers represent a minority among those Israelis who chose to live in the West Bank, and certainly a tiny minority among Israelis in general – but they are very vocal. A third group of the so-called “settlers” live in what has come to be known as “East Jerusalem”, and their motivations are mostly the same as those living in other areas considered to be suburbs of large urban centers. Most Israelis sympathize with the “non-ideological settlers” but at the same time resent those who moved to the West Bank following what they see as a quasi messianic redemptive idea.
There is also the religious/secular divide. The tensions between the ultra-orthodox and the rest of Israeli society has grown over the years. Many Israelis resent the “Haredi” (as the ultra-orthodox are known) for not serving in the military, getting government subsidies to study in a Yeshivah, and getting significant monthly welfare checks to maintain their large families and their way of life while most Israelis have to work hard to make ends meet.
Since the religious parties have played the role of power brokers in the establishment of every coalition government since 1948, they continue to exert significant political influence. Any attempt to take away or even reduce the privileges of the ultra-orthodox population has threatened, so far, the possibilities of establishing a successful coalition- be it from the left or the right side of the Israeli political spectrum. Israelis will pay attention to whether a future leader or coalition member supports several laws under Knesset consideration pushing for reducing the ultra-orthodox influence on Israeli society as well as their privileges.
An then there is the economy. While Israel has exhibited a remarkable economic growth and managed the reduce unemployment to almost normal levels while showing 3.3 % growth in 2012 – for many Israelis this is only one part of the problem. Housing costs in Israel continue to rise making it very difficult to buy a house or even a condominium. This situation has played a role in pushing younger families to live in places like Ma'aleh Adumim, or other suburbs of Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv built on land controlled by Jordan before 1967. Government subsidies allows these young families to have a better standard of living and to afford decent housing. Of the approximately 300,000 Israelis who live beyond the Green Line, more than 90% are there for this reason, as are most of those 200,000 Israelis who now live in the areas of Jerusalem previously controlled by Jordan. The gap between the Haves and the Have-Nots continues to grow, threatening the standard of living of the Israeli middle class.
Then there is the International situation. Most Israelis feel that the world is unfairly singling out Israel for criticism while automatically accepting any action or statement from the Palestinians; and this feeling is based on facts and realities. How Israel came to be in this position is a subject of heated debate in Israeli society, as it is the relative importance of International support. This issue is becoming increasingly important as Israelis realize that as good as the IDF is, containing Iran or the other Jihadist regimes emerging in the neighborhood will require support from other countries, especially the United States. There are those, however, who resent this situation that they see as immoral are unethical.
Most Israelis also understand that in order to tackle any of these issues, they need a strong government – one that commands as many Knesset votes as possible and one which ideally leaves the ultra-orthodox out of power. In this context, the recent formation of moderate religious parties opened ways to negotiate within Israeli society a new (and probably diminished) role for religion. At the same time, while the parties on the right wing of Israeli politics have underwent a process of gradual consolidation, those on the left wing of Israeli politics went to a process of division into a number of small parties, diminishing their influence on Israeli politics.
Every Israeli wants the best for Israel, but as in any society what each individual considers to be the best for the country is not necessarily the same as what his/her neighbor thinks. Such is the reality in a democratic society.
It is one thing to look at these issues from afar and (as most Jews do) take sides. It is quite a different issue to live immersed in a society where each one of these issues is very important. When Israelis take to the polls they need to balance all these issues based on their personal importance for each of them, and since Israelis are passionate about politics the results are often strident and even violent. Because for them - these issues matter.
While according to the most recent polls, it appears that Benjamin Netanyahu enjoys a wide lead and will most likely be the next Prime Minister of Israel, every Knesset election provides the opportunity for realigning the political forces and change coalitions to gain wider freedom to define policies. If were to have the opportunity to give Mr Netanyahu or any future PM an advise (fat chance, but a guy can always dream), I would tell him/her to reach out to the other side of the right/left divide and form a Unity Government with the strength to advance the cause of Peace, Security and Justice in Israeli society. And if I had the opportunity to give some advise to Jewish groups outside Israel (probably also fat chance) it would be to respect the choice that Israeli citizens are about to make and support whoever emerges as the winner when it comes to issues threatening the safety of Israeli civilians; but at the same time to remain outspoken in articulating the need to fix Israel's social woes. Both approaches are necessary to ensure the continuing blossoming of Israel as a Jewish Democratic State.
Just my two cents.