Ahead of the 1996 general elections, the Labor Party’s strategic team drafted a document titled: “Peres’ desirable image – decisive, leadership-oriented, and nationally minded.” The campaign slogan chosen was “Israel is strong with Peres.” Campaign Manager Avner Barel explained the choice: “Based on the polls we realized that Netanyahu is perceived as stronger on security issues, so we tried to highlight this side in Peres.”
Netanyahu, in response, decided to boost his image as a man of peace. The slogan chosen for him was: “Netanyahu, making a secure peace.” Bibi’s chief strategist, Eyal Arad, also explained the choice: “Netanyahu wasn’t even in the game or on the playing field as far as peace was concerned. Slowly, we got him in there.”
Shaul Mofaz performed the same maneuver last week when he presented his diplomatic plan. Apparently he realized, just as Ariel Sharon realized in the 2003 campaign, that in order to win the premiership one needs to break to the Left.
It’s a good question why Mofaz decided to launch his campaign for the premiership more than three years ahead of the next scheduled elections. Does he estimate that Abbas’ resignation, the rift with the US, and the possibility of a Labor Party split will topple the current government sooner?
One way or another, he is forcing the main players in the political arena to dust off their old campaign kits. So what is the image conveyed by Mofaz, Livni, Barak and Netanyahu ahead of possible diplomatic and political developments?
Mofaz, who launched his peace offensive, also launched a war against Tzipi Livni for Kadima’s premiership. His problem is that despite being a political veteran, he has not yet formulated what media researchers refer to as an esthetic image in the political-television theater. This is the added value that stirs anticipation and excitement around a politician, stemming from the way his personality and not just actions is conveyed through the media. Mofaz’s diplomatic plan elicited broad public support according to a weekend poll. His problem is that the other politicians in the race may adopt this plan, a move that would leave him without a unique status to boast.
Tzipi Livni is still not perceived as a success story as opposition leader. It is difficult to recall any idea or speech that left their mark during this time. Kadima is not losing Knesset seats in the polls, yet the leftist bloc has shrunk. A campaign against Mofaz will accelerate this process. Livni needs to form an identity of a national politician, one who would inform Netanyahu and Barak that she would provide a safety net for any significant diplomatic move. Should they not walk into this trap, they might end up being toppled.
Ehud Barak is living on borrowed time, the “two or three months” that Labor Knesset Member Daniel Ben-Simon granted him before endorsing a move to split Labor along with other party “rebels.” Barak, who claims that he whispered Netanyahu’s Bar-Ilan’s speech into Bibi’s ear, must turn from a whisperer to a more aggressive mover and shaker. What does he have to lose with the exception of the hatred of his fellow party members?
Benjamin Netanyahu is seemingly repeating all the mistakes he made in his previous term in office: He’s resorting to spins instead of actions and changes his mind constantly, yet amazingly enough, he is flourishing in the polls. Is it his white hair that’s doing the trick? His restrained words vis-à-vis his rivals? The paucity of politicians who jeopardize his status? Apparently, his stable coalition allows him to keep all the balls in the air. Yet once he will have to choose between peace speeches and peace actions, the balls will start falling one after another.