I’m not going to pretend I was satisfied with the Likud’s election campaign, or even all of Prime Minister’s Netanyahu’s policies/positions over the last four years (e.g., Bar Ilan, the freeze, etc.). But in the past four years, we’ve had, first of all, a government that lasted just about four years, which is quite an achievement in and of itself in Israel. And we’ve managed to stave off international pressure while getting sanctions in place against Iran. At the same time we’ve had modest domestic achievements, keeping the economy stable despite a global crisis and lowering the monthly cost of living.
Yet, leading up to the elections, I was shocked by how many people were so ready to abandon the Likud and Netanyahu, despite the fact that they knew only he could be Prime Minister and would need a strong showing for the Likud-Beitenu slate in order to have a stable center of gravity for his coalition.
On the day of election, I argued that weakening the Likud-Beitenu, even if by voting for the Jewish Home, to Netanyahu’s right, will actually strengthen whatever left-of-center party will join the government. That’s because even if “the right” has a majority of the Knesset, even 65 seats, a stable government requires more than that. Netanyahu will have no choice, just as he did after the last election, but to bring at least one party from the left in to stablize the coalition. Otherwise any coalition partner could bring down the government.
As the Likud-Beitenu dropped in support, that became more and more true, since the less seats it would have the more vital each coalition partner would be. While that would make Jewish Home more vital to the coalition, it would also have a similar affect on the other parties. The only method Netanyahu has of neutralizing that problem is by bringing in more parties. Practically, the weaker Likud-Beitenu was, the more necessary a left-wing party would become to the coalition. That party was Yesh Atid, which seems to be the most centrist of the sizable left-wing parties.
That prediction, or actually warning, came true with a vengeance. Not only did the Likud lose seven mandates worth of votes to Jewish Home (Jewish Home got 12 and Power to Israel got two, for a total of 14 – seven mandates greater then these two parties represented in the prior Knesset), but Yesh Atid almost doubled in size, going from a predicted 10 to 19 mandates.
So, predictably, Netanyahu’s first post-election call was to Yair Lapid.
At that point Netayahu had two realistic possibilities for a right-of-center coalition: Likud-Beitenu-Jewish Home-Yesh Atid+Shas (with a moderate Haredi-draft plan) for a 72 seat coalition OR Likud-Beitenu-Jewish Home-Shas-UTJ-Livni-(Kadima) for a 67-69 seat coalition without Lapid (unclear draft plan, but relatively decent foreign policy positions).
(A Likud-Beitenu-Jewish Home-Shas-UTJ coalition would amount to 62 seats, would result in do-nothing government, with a bad budget, and might even fall by the time the next budget came up).
When it became clear that Lapid’s demands were too inflexible, making Shas unwilling to join the coalition, meaning the first option was not going to happen, the second option became more necessary. So Liberman went about trying to make it happen, meeting with the Jewish Home. Talks began with Livni as well. But then Bennett and Lapid formed an alliance: Bennett would not join the government, unless Lapid also joined.
Practically, that means that Netanyahu can’t form a government without Lapid. It also means that Lapid will be strengthened in his demands, specifically his universal draft plan (which sees lowering the amount of yeshiva-exemptions to a mere 400, lower than it was in the early years of the state) and Shas and UTJ will not sit in the government. Lapid will be doubly strengthened in his demand for a renewed focus on the peace process (he still clings to Golda Meir’s non-sense slogan of, you only make peace with your enemies), because not only does he have more leverage with Netanyahu, but also because Netanyahu will need to bring in more left-wing partners to stabilize the coalition, such as Tzipi Livni who demands that she lead a renewed negotiation effort.
Netanyahu tried to break the alliance by offering Bennett virtually everything he wanted prior to elections – greater say over government guidelines and ministries – in exchange for being the first party to join the coalition. That would have weakened Lapid’s position and forced him to moderate. But Bennett refused.