‘Economic issues- paramount importance for Israeli voters’

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu casts his ballot for the parliamentary election as his son Yair stands behind him at a polling station in Jerusalem March 17, 2015.  (Reuters / Sebastian Scheiner / Pool)
Neither Iranian, nor the Palestinian issues are foremost for Israeli voters, Owen Alterman, Israel-US relations expert told RT. Whoever the next Prime Minister is the cost of the living or housing prices will remain the most important problems, he added.

RT:Recent polls put Netanyahu behind Herzog's Zionist Union. What are his chances tomorrow?

Owen Alterman: That is a big question here in Israel. The results are very close. The important thing for everyone to understand is that the results don’t only depend on those two parties; they depend on the results across the board. Israel is a multi-party system and the chances of putting together a coalition will depend not only how those two large parties perform but on how a host of smaller parties perform, as well.

RT:Netanyahu said earlier at a rally that foreign money is being poured into Israel, with the aim of removing him from office. Do you believe that?

READ MORE: Israeli elections: 4th term or end of Netanyahu era? LIVE UPDATES

OA: There is certainly foreign money coming in. It’s not clear whether it’s coming in from governments or not. I suspect that element is being exaggerated. But foreign money in Israeli politics is nothing new. Mr. Netanyahu has his own supporter, the billionaire Sheldon Adelson who funds a newspaper that is well- known for supporting Mr. Netanyahu. So Netanyahu - while he has attacked the foreign funders who are supporting his opponents or at least Netanyahu’s removal – also draws on foreign money.

RT:Netanyahu didn't name specific countries, but Fox News reported the US Senate was looking at whether the Obama administration was linked to any finding. Surely Obama wouldn't be that blatant?

OA: No, their question as I understand it is that, an NGO in the US is supporting what is called the V-15 [Victory 15] effort here in Israel which is the group that is doing canvassing and trying to convince voters to drop Mr. Netanyahu. At the same time the State Department gave that same NGO money. So the question is: did the State Department give the money so the money then can be used here in Israel. I don’t know.

From what I understand from the media reports it is a relatively small amount of money, only $350,000. So I suspect that this is not going to be turned into a major issue. Even though the Senate is investigating, or a Senate Committee is investigating and we’ll have to wait and see where that leads.

Gabriel Sassoun, foreign communications adviser, on Israeli election, 2015: “I don’t think that Israel has isolated itself… But Netanyahu hasn’t helped relations with the Americans over the last couple of weeks, months, and years… A change of prime minister will certainly be a step in a right direction.”

RT:Why have relations with the US dropped to such a low point?

OA: I think there are several reasons. First of all, there are real differences in perspective and interests on the Iranian nuclear question, and on attitudes and the positions toward the Iranian regime in general. And those would be true no matter which government sits here in Jerusalem. Also there is obviously a lot of personal acrimony, or at least personal tension between Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Obama. And at the root that has to do with two people of different world views and very different views of human nature. And that makes it very, very hard for them to see eye to eye on a host of issues, whether that be Iranian question, the Palestinian issue, or even other issues. So it’s very, very hard for them to work together. But if Mr. Netanyahu remains prime minister they will have to find a way to do so.

Reuters / Ronen Zvulun

RT:There's been a wave of symbolic recognitions of Palestinian statehood in Europe. What does that say about Netanyahu's policy and how does that impact on Israel's image abroad?

OA: It is an ongoing question. The concern about international “isolation” of Israel is something that is resonating among parts of electorate here. It’s definitely a challenge the new government will face. But again I should say also that for Israeli voters neither the Iranian issue, nor the Palestinian issues are foremost in the voters’ minds - it is economic issues: housing prices, the cost of living that are really the major political issues here and that are going to loom large in the vote and also in [its] results...

While it is true that the Palestinian issue is important and will be a challenge for whoever is Israel’s prime minister, and whichever party sits in next to government, these issues of housing prices and cost of living are not going away and are of paramount importance to voters here…

RT:Could the outcome of tomorrow's election lead to a significant change of policy regarding the Palestinian issue?

OA: First of all I think there are two parts. Number one it’s the issue he feels passionate about. The Iranian issue in particular is one that Mr. Netanyahu feels as his calling and feels personally committed to and passionate about. Whether one agrees with his approached or disagrees with it I think there is no doubting in sincerity to or toward it.

The second is political. Mr. Netanyahu and the political right here in general have an advantage when it comes to security issues because the public tends to lean more towards their positions than toward the political left. On economic issues they still have a disadvantage. Netanyahu in terms of his election campaign and his election strategy has a distinct incentive to try to steer the debate toward the security issues and away from economic issues. The question is whether this strategy has worked. And that is exactly what we’ll see...

Gabriel Sassoun, foreign communications adviser, on Israeli election, 2015: “There is no different policy in terms of things like Iran. No Israeli will accept a nuclear Iran… But, [Isaac Herzog] will immediately go to Ramallah and speak with President Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) and see if there is a Palestinian partner on the other side.”

RT:Netanyahu insists he'd never withdraw from any part of the occupied territories. Does being so hard-line help his chances?

OA: It is a great question. To answer it you have to understand again that Israel is a multi-party system and voters are faced not only with choosing between left and right. There is a choice between many, many different parties. With Netanyahu’s statements, especially on that issue, the thinking here is that he is trying to take votes away from parties further to the right of his particularly, of what’s known as HaBayit HaYehudi [The Jewish Home] party of Naftali Bennett and The Settlement movement. Netanyahu is trying to draw votes away from them to strengthen his Likud party. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that will help him swing the result because in our complex system he is simply taking votes from within his own block rather than drawing votes in from the center.

RT:Israelis seem to be more focused on the economy, than the threat from Iran. So why does Netanyahu continue with the same issue of security?

OA: You’re absolutely right; Netanyahu is an incredible political survivor. He is now the second longest serving Israeli prime minister. The only prime minister to serve longer is the founding father of the country, David Ben-Gurion…

The open question too many Israeli minds is a surprisingly open question as to whether he will continue to be a prime minister after [the vote]. There is no question about Netanyahu’s competence, his intelligence, his care, especially on security issues, I do think there are questions about his judgment, there are question about his set of priorities, especially the attitude towards the cost of living, housing issues which again are really the paramount issues in Israeli’s minds. Yes, problems in terms of his interpersonal relationships- we mentioned Obama; but he also has had issues with many other world leaders, not to mention many other Israeli politicians…

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.