Though experts of the health ministry advise against it, Israel is quickly reopening the economy. Starting Sunday, the international airport in Tel Aviv will open, allowing the return of several thousand citizens who have been stranded abroad, in some cases for weeks.
This step is not the result of the success of the vaccination campaign.
Further reopenings are expected, based on the government meeting that continued into late evening Tuesday. And pandemic data is still uncertain: there are thousands of positive cases every day and the number of serious cases and deaths has not yet dropped to levels that would call off the alarm. It is politics, not data that dictates the reopening.
Twenty days before the legislative elections—the fourth in two years—parties want to avoid appearing to the voters as the one holding back the alleged post-pandemic. None more than Prime Minister Netanyahu who, last December, when the vaccination campaign in Israel began, promised an end to the crisis by March. In one stroke, Israel went from observing a curfew during the evening and night hours of the Jewish Purim to the usual traffic jams, as if the coronavirus did not exist.
The polls are no longer reassuring for the prime minister, who is wagering all or almost all of the success of the vaccination campaign to present himself to voters on March 23 as the savior of the homeland. A Channel 13 TV poll indicates that the pro-Netanyahu bloc will get 45 seats while that of its many opponents will have 60 seats, one less than the Knesset majority. Likud, Netanyahu’s party, would remain the largest in the Knesset, with 27 seats out of 120, three fewer than in a poll conducted in early February.
Threats from the right are not his natural opposition; that is typically the center-left, which is now struggling. Instead, attempting to take away the scepter he has held since 2009 are two right-wing rivals, Naftali Bennett and Gideon Saar, and the centrist Yair Lapid. With 18 seats, his party, Yesh Atid, will be placed immediately behind the Likud.
The fate of the United Arab List remains in the balance. After losing one of its four legs, the Islamist Raam party seems destined to reconfirm only ten of the 15 seats it won just a year ago. General weariness, disappointment at the few results achieved and the desire for more say have removed a portion of the List’s base. The expected reduced Arab turnout at the polls is also penalizing it, which should be around 50% after exceeding 60% in the elections a year ago.
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