Time has been called on Israel’s 19th parliament, the second shortest in Knesset history. Bad feeling has been festering for a while and the patch of unity covering the war in Gaza now seems like a distant memory, with recent weeks giving way to a war of a different kind.
There was no one straw that broke the coalition, but among the more noticeable – and avoidable – distractions was the unpopular ‘Jewish nation’ bill.
Cue the deepening of fault-lines, with centrist politicians pushing back against what many thought would only deepen discrimination of Israel’s Arab minority.
Yet tackling the question of Israel’s dual Jewish and democratic character had been firmly on the 19th Knesset’s to-do list, and hopes had been high. Fresh faces had flooded the chamber, many new to politics.
High-calibre women rubbed shoulders with rabbis and tech millionaires, debating Israel’s identity. It seemed to signal something.
Prof. Yedidia Stern described it as the “coming of age of a cultural and social movement unwilling to content itself with obsessive debate about Israel’s borders, conducted under the name of ‘right’ and ‘left’, but to focus on the desired nature of the state within those borders”.
For the past 21 months, Israeli politicians of all stripes have acknowledged this willingness and urgency to work out what it means to be Jewish in Israel today, and what it means for Israel to be a Jewish state in 2014.
Regardless of whether the Charedi parties return to power as part of a coalition, that debate will rumble on into the 20th Knesset. But there are other, perhaps more pressing, needs to discuss first. One is the Israeli economy, which shrank by half a percent last quarter.
Forecasts are sharply down for this year as a whole, and most analysts predict a recession. The other issue is security, but not as we know it. Israel’s last war with an Arab state was 25 years ago, and with most preoccupied, others are unlikely any time soon.
The only conflict has been with the Palestinians.
With no new vision, this is equally unlikely to change. Moats around Gaza are all well and good, but fresh eyes and fresh ideas are badly needed to secure a long-term peace.
Right now, it looks as though this election will be fought over personalities. The chances are the ultra-Orthodox parties will be in the government, no matter who becomes prime minister.
Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid could well team up under the Yesh Atid label. The one thing that could bar Netanyahu’s path is if Livni, Lapid and Isaac Herzog team up, particularly if they were to merge forces into one centrist party.
Whether a weary Israeli public will deliver politicians capable of leading the country through all these challenges on 17 March 2015 remains to be seen.
Let’s see what the world looks like on 18 March.