Israel elections 2015 | Results show security still reigns as a top concern

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Likud’s victory indicates that Israeli voters still place a high priority on security.

In the run-up to the March 17 elections, surveys had predicted that the left-leaning Zionist Union would outperform Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud, based on voters’ prioritization of socioeconomic issues.

In January, the Israel Democracy Institute’s monthly Peace Index poll projected that 40 percent of Israelis would make their voting decisions based on a party’s socioeconomic issues, compared with 32 percent deciding on a party’s foreign policy and security stance.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his wife, Sara, and Likud supporters sing “Hatikvah” at party headquarters on March 18. jta/flash90-miriam alster

But on election day, security may have won out.

“My experience and my understanding in Israel is that ultimately, security is the issue on the minds of Israelis: left, right, center,” said Stan Steinreich, president and CEO of Steinreich Communications, a New Jersey-based public relations firm that also has an office in Israel. “The economy and the economic outlook are important, but secondary.”

Following Netanyahu’s much-debated March 3 speech to Congress about Iran, an Israel Hayom-New Wave Research Institute poll found that 41 percent of Israelis would place their trust in Netanyahu to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat, far more than the 6 percent of respondents who chose Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog. (Fifteen percent said they trust President Barack Obama the most with the Iranian nuclear issue.)

In the same poll, 46 percent of respondents said Netanyahu’s Congress speech — which, given its proximity to the election, drew accusations from the Israeli left of being politically motivated — was the correct move, while 39 percent thought it was a mistake. Netanyahu had argued that his speech was motivated by Israel’s survival, which he believes would be jeopardized by a bad nuclear deal between Iran and the United States, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany.

As for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, a governing coalition led by Zionist Union would likely make more concessions than Netanyahu’s Likud, perhaps going as far as considering the division of Jerusalem.

The difference was made clear on March 16, a day before the election, when Netanyahu vowed that a Palestinian state would not be established under his watch, reversing the support for a two-state solution that he expressed in a 2009 speech at Bar-Ilan University.

“I think that anyone who moves to establish a Palestinian state and evacuate territory gives territory away to radical Islamist attacks against Israel,” the prime minister told the NRG news website.

Labor party Knesset member Erel Margalit, the 12th-ranked candidate on Zionist Union’s list, said recently that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process “deserves much more attention” than it is getting at the moment.

Yet even if Zionist Union would have pushed for a major shift on the Israeli-Palestinian front, the March Peace Index poll showed that 64 percent of Israeli Jews felt the peace process would not advance no matter which party formed the next government.

Regarding U.S.-Israel relations, the same poll found that 49 percent of Israeli Jews believed the Obama administration would be friendlier to a Herzog/Tzipi Livni government than one headed by Netanyahu (33 percent said the White House would show the same level of friendliness to either government).

Netanyahu dismissed the negative viewpoint in a pre-election interview with the daily Israel Hayom.

“The relationship with the U.S. is strong enough,” he said. “It will experience ups and downs, currently on its way up. The support for Israel among the American public is at an all-time high. The support for me personally has also gone up over the last year.

“We are not going to lose the American public just because we are standing up for ourselves. On the contrary: A prime minister who stands up for himself is often respected for it.”