Latest update: January 27th, 2013
So the final results are almost completely tallied and it’s pretty bad for the right-wing, especially Likud-Beitenu, despite the fact that the Benjamin Netanyahu will likely form the next government.
The only threat to Netanyahu forming the government is a joint Shas-Lapid boycott. Likud-Beitenu and Jewish Home comprise 43 seats. Shas and UTJ (17) bring it up to 61 or Lapid (19) will bring it up to 62. Only if Lapid, Shas and UTJ (or even Lapid and Shas) boycott Netanyahu will Netanyahu not be able to form the government. That scenario would also require Livni and Yachimovitch and Lapid to agree on making one of these three their candidate for Prime Minister, which is even more unlikely. Also, Shas publicly endorsed Netanyahu for Prime Minister in an advertisement prior to the elections, apparently counting on the fact that Lapid will compromise on a universal draft.
Nevertheless, for Netanyahu to form a stable coalition (closer to 70 seats) he would need to Shas and/or UTJ compromise with a plan to draft Hareidim, as he said in his “victory” speech last night that he plans to make a priority and because Lapid is now too large to ignore, especially relative to a weak Likud.
Kadima – which escaped what would have been a well-deserved political death – could be another leftist party which Netanyahu could bring on board to strengthen the coalition, especially if Shas will not join. This would bring the coalition up to 64 seats, that’s still not that stable, but at least Kadima won’t be able to ask for much with it’s meager two seats.
That would mean giving Mofaz something that Mofaz would feel will make him and Kadima relevant until the next elections, perhaps some lessor ministry or as a minister without portfolio. (Mofaz’s other options to survive through the next elections are (a) to somehow re-establish himself outside the government, which is unlikely; (b) to rejoin the Likud with his tail between his legs, which is also unlikely considering how he treated Netanyahu after Netanyahu brought him into the coalition before; (c) merge with another left-wing party which would be equally embarrassing for him and also unprofitable for the other party; or, (d) wait for Olmert to return and save him).
Some other thoughts:
* The success of Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid in garnering 19 mandates, making it the second largest of all parties is the biggest surprise of the election. It’s almost twice as high as Lapid polled before the elections and 19 more than Lapid had before as this is his first election. Like Liberman before, Lapid will likely be Netanyahu’s major partner as under almost any coalition figuration Yesh Atid can bring down the coalition.
* The Jewish Home’s success was not as great as predicted but it was still quite an achievement to garner 12 Knesset seats. The joint Jewish Home-National Union list represented only seven seats in the outgoing Knesset and only a few months ago hoped to get up to 10 seats in the next Knesset. Kudos to them for running a great campaign, including Anglo candidate Jeremy Gimpel who chaired the English-speakers campaign and Jeremy Saltan who was the English-speaker’s campaign manager, despite the fact that Gimpel himself will not be in the next Knesset.
* The Likud-Beitenu’s drop from 42 seats in the outgoing Knesset to 31 in the next is the second biggest surprise. Liberman said last night that he does not regret the merger: Of course he doesn’t, his party only dropped to 11 seats in the Knesset, from 15, despite the fact that he has been indicted, based on testimony from one of his former lieutenants and was absent during the campaign.
The Likud on the other hand lost its upward momentum and now comprises only 20 Knesset seats (only one more than newcomer Lapid). That’s quite an embarrassment for the what is supposed to be the leading party in Israel.
Not that Liberman/the merger should take all the blame. The campaign was terrible from almost every angle – functionally and strategically – and Netanyahu’s no-risk political philosophy may also be to blame for failing to motivate new voters, even though it is good for managing a coalition and providing much-needed stability to the country.
* The “Right” as a whole lost out. Instead of 65 seats (or more, even up to 71 according to some polls), it now has 61. And, remember, the right-wing bloc is not necessarily all right-wing. UTJ is only right-wing on religious issues. On Judea and Samaria, standing up to the international community and economic issues, it is to the left. Shas is also to the left on economic issues and with Aryeh Deri back at the helm it is not clearly to the right when it comes to security-territory issues. Even without Deri, Shas was the prop that kept the Olmert government together after the Second Lebanon War. So really the Right has only 43 reliable seats (Likud-Beitenu + Jewish Home).
Still, that is down from the approximate 50 or more polls had predicted. It’s too early to say why, it’s probably a combination of the fact that secular supporters of Yisrael Beitenu voted for Lapid and the Likud’s attacks on the Jewish Home contributed to that (e.g., voters who supported Yisrael Beitenu, but would have voted Jewish Home, switched to Lapid when they realized that Jewish Home’s list was comprised of the religious-right) and may have caused other voters to simply stay home (as Jewish Home MK Uri Orbach has now suggested).
Another contributing factor was Power fo Israel, which was just short of the voting threshold, which is two percent or a little over two Knesset seats. Those two seats (or 1.5 seats after redistribution of the votes) were lost to the Right. While I am sorry to see Aryeh Eldad go, he and Ben Ari made a major tactical error when they refused to join the Jewish Home. They would have been better served had they stayed on board and split off from the faction after the election (assuming they would not sit in a Netanyahu government on moral grounds).
* All is not lost for the Likud as the 31 mandates it garnered this time with Yisrael Beitenu, can be converted into pure Likud mandates in the next election. These voters put “Machal” (the Likud’s election-slip) in the ballot. Liberman was absent during the campaign. They were essentially voting for the Likud-Netanyahu. Yisrael Beitenu may have 11 Knesset members, but it may disappear in the next elections. The question is whether it can be absorbed by the Likud in a manner that is fair to the Likud – integrating the Beitenu members into the Likud’s primaries – and agreeable to Liberman.
* As a final point, this election was a disaster for the large party concept, which is very important to government stability, foreign policy, and pushing an agenda. The largest party is 31 seats, which is not that large, and it’s not really one party. On the Left, Labor failed to present itself as the main opposition and become a 20+ seat party. Lapid garnered 19, but so far, he has not spoken about leading the opposition (and it’s hard to see either Yachimovitch or Livni agreeing to it) and it’s not clear that this is something he can repeat. The temptation provided by Israel’s political system to the voter – to vote for a party that most closely resembles themselves, even if it comes at the expenses of good government for all – seems simply too great for the average citizen to resist.
About the Author: Daniel Tauber is a frequent contributor to various prominent publications, including the Jewish Press, Arutz Sheva, Americanthinker.com, the Jerusalem Post and Ha’aretz. Daniel is also an attorney admitted to practice law in Israel and New York and received his J.D. from Fordham University School of Law. You can follow him on facebook and twitter.
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