The enduring (if not endless) election has led to laments about the "permanent campaign." But America's got nothing on Israel, which will soon have its fourth national election in two years.
Many factors led to the repeated plebiscites. The latest collapse of the coalition government was ostensibly due to the failure to meet a legally mandated deadline to approve a budget.
But the real reason for the relapse into campaigning was the dysfunction between the coalition's leaders, longtime Likud Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Benny Gantz, who led the centrist Blue and White party.
Gantz, who had pledged to not serve alongside Netanyahu, later broke his promise in an arrangement that was to have each leader serve 18 months as prime minister. He never got his opportunity. And Israeli voters are unlikely to give him a second chance in the March 23 election.
They may be more reluctant to trust Netanyahu, too, especially since three former Likud backers — most recently and most notably, Gideon Saar — have left Likud to run against their former leader.
Netanyahu seems to hope that a decisive victory can protect him from charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery. Voters may have other ideas — about the election and more profoundly about Israel's institutions. Indeed, in many ways the election itself and Israeli politics in general are increasingly about Netanyahu, not nationally defining issues.
"The axis point of Israeli politics since 1967 has always been the Palestinian issue," David Makovsky, a distinguished fellow and director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy's Koret Project for Arab-Israel Relations, told an editorial writer. But now, Makovsky continued, "The combination of a prime minister facing three charges in a court of law and the institutions under assault have basically taken over as the overriding template that dominates Israeli politics."
That doesn't mean the unsolved saga between Israelis and Palestinians isn't important to voters, or that the expected victory of a center-right or right-wing party (or more likely, coalition) is a complete repudiation of a two-state solution — the policy the incoming Biden administration is sure to re-emphasize.
The leaders of four Arab nations — the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco — that recently normalized relations with Israel in what is known as the Abraham Accords will continue to press for resolution, too.
Netanyahu, who has proved politically resilient, will campaign on the accords as well as rallying the region against Iran, plus Israel's aggressive rollout of vaccines, which he hopes will blunt criticism of the government's uneven response to the virus crisis.
The Trump administration was central to the sensible diplomatic breakthroughs, but whoever wins in March will be working with President-elect Joe Biden, who will press Israel to expand the regional recognition by reckoning, finally and fully, with the Palestinian issue.
Biden, whose involvement in U.S.-Israel relations goes back to Golda Meir, is considered a friend by most Israelis, said Makovsky, who added: "The Abraham Accords is a light across the spectrum. ... The challenge for the new Biden administration is to build on it.
"The fact that Israelis and Arabs have been normalizing after all these years is a huge deal, and the key is how do you build on it and maximize on it so it is a win-win and can be a winner for the Palestinian issue too, so you don't have this slide to a one state [solution]."
The diplomatic and domestic risks of such a slide are high, and solving the Palestinian issue will remain high on Biden's and other Arab leaders' agenda. It should be central to Israeli voters, too. Because while the upcoming election may (again) be about Netanyahu, the more profound consideration should be the country itself.