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Israel’s Election: A Preliminary Analysis

Attention now turns to the question of how Netanyahu can put together a coalition that will hold 61 seats, a majority needed to form a government.
Haredi men cast their votes for the 19th Knesset in Bnei Brak, January 22 2013.

Haredi men cast their votes for the 19th Knesset in Bnei Brak, January 22 2013.
Photo Credit: Yaakov Naumi/Flash9

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A coalition with Lapid would be far more attractive and bring him quickly to 50 seats. The problem is that Lapid doesn’t mix with the religious parties, especially Shas. While his party is less explicitly anti-Haredi (what is usually, but wrongly, called Ultra-Orthodox”) than his late father’s similar party he still wouldn’t be eager for such a combination.

Since the far left is clearly not a coalition partner and both Labor and Livni have said they would not go into a coalition with Netanyahu, unless they change that decision, Netanyahu has a problem. The irony is that if Netanyahu would ever be forced to go with Bennett it was because Labor and Livni left him no alternative.

The easiest way out would be to persuade Lapid—who is an unknown quantity—to sit with the religious parties or with Bennett. In that case, Bennett’s party would be the smallest of the three partners and thus have far less leverage. Moreover, as a Dati party, Bennett’s party might be willing to cooperate on such things as fewer subsidies for the Haredim and more military service. (This might in turn scare Shas and Yahadut ha-Torah to give lots of concessions to go into the coalition).

Tough weeks of negotiations lie ahead to create a coalition after President Shimon Peres designates Netanyahu as having the first option to form a government. He will then have three weeks to do so.

As for the Netanyahu’s decision to combine with Avigdor Liberman’s party, this was probably a mistake, driving moderate liberal voters to Lapid. With Liberman being indicted, his party would have gone into crisis and many or most of its voters would have gone over to Netanyahu without him having to give anything in return.

On the right of Netanyahu’s party, he lost probably to Bennett among those who wanted to express their harder-line views or believed that Bennett would pull Netanyahu to the right in a coalition. That might have amounted to 3-6 seats Netanyahu might otherwise have obtained. Still, the much-exaggerated rise of the right-wing failed to materialize, especially when one adds that Bennett’s party is the only one that might be said to directly represent the Dati (Modern Orthodox) sector.

In the center-left, voters had to calculate whether to vote for Livni, Lapid, or Kadima. The fact that Lapid is an attractive candidate, seems like a nice guy, and has no record to turn people against him helped his cause. In contrast, Livni is not personally popular and has failed on several occasions.

On the left, people had to decide whether they wanted to cast anti-Bibi votes with Labor or Meretz. A Meretz slogan, sniping at Labor, described the party as “your real voice against Bibi.” Wanting to show a tougher opposition stance, a number of people voted for Meretz thus hurting Labor. (One might calculate that as involving two to three seats).

If Labor became the opposition leader, as seemed likely, it cannot depend on the close, consistent cooperation of any other party. Shelly Yachimovich, the party’s leader, has already said she would try to block Netanyahu from forming a coalition. (Incidentally, if she succeeded it would lead to new elections in which Netanyahu would probably do better as people voted to ensure a strong government be formed).

Short-lived centrist parties like Lapid’s and Livni’s have been a feature of Israeli politics since 1977. Every such party has ultimately failed after a promising start, with the latest example being Kadima itself which went from a government party to almost oblivion in less than a decade. Lapid’s own father also headed such a party which fell apart without ever accomplishing anything

Originally published at Rubin Reports. This article was edited from the original to reflect updated election results.

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About the Author: Professor Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. See the GLORIA/MERIA site at www.gloria-center.org.


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