The splits in the opposition have become ridiculous. Four different parties are competing with no real differences among them and without a single charismatic leader. Mofaz may be a highly competent general but has shown himself a bad politician. Livni has failed repeatedly in office. Yair Lapid is following his father’s political path in bashing the Haredim (those inaccurately known generally as “ultra-Orthodox”) while Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich, widely predicted to come in second, is a radio personality with little political experience. Three of them—except for Mofaz—just met to discuss unity and broke up in acrimony.
Livni has already announced she won’t go into coalition with Netanyahu while Lapid demands that there won’t be any religious parties involved. In other words, both of them plus the hapless Mofaz, have boxed themselves into a corner.
This brings us into the popular international theme about the alleged meaning of the election: Israel is moving to the right and rejecting a two-state solution. A lot of this is motivated by the agenda of making Israel look as if it is against peace, despite the fact that it is the Palestinian side that makes such a solution impossible.
Yet Netanyahu’s impending victory has nothing to do with any shift on that issue. Rather, it is due to the fact that the prime minister has done a reasonably good job, the economy is okay, terrorism is low, he’s kept out of trouble, and has shown he can be trusted to preserve security. Moreover, there is no very attractive figure, unity, or single impressive party on the other side. Given this situation, Netanyahu’s victory–meaning his party will come in first and he will form the next government–is a no-brainer.
There are four pieces of evidence supposed to indicate that the next government will be further to the right or more “hardline,” three of which are clearly bogus. First, several supposedly moderate candidates in the Likud primary were defeated. In fact, this group—one of whom, Benny Begin, is an honorable man but hard right—consists of nice guys who were terrible campaigners. Nothing is less surprising than that they lost.
Second, the hardline faction of Likud, led by Moshe Feiglin, a dangerous extremist, is supposedly stronger. In fact, though, Netanyahu held it at bay and it would will no influence in the next government as it has not had in this one.
Third, Netanyahu made a distasteful alliance with the party of the demagogic Avigdor Liberman. While Liberman is corrupt and a poseur, his right-wing militancy was for show and he never actually did anything materially. At any rate, with Liberman under indictment for corruption, the political careers of his faction’s parliamentarians now depend on keeping Netanyahu happy. Moreover, they represent more of a Soviet immigrant pressure group than right-wing militants.
This leaves the real fear regarding the rising star of Naftali Bennett, head of the genuinely right-wing Habayit Hayehudi party. But the problem with the thesis, popular among Western journalists, that there will be a right-wing Netanyahu-Bennett coalition is that Netanyahu loathes Bennett and knows he would be a constant headache. Bennett’s party would attack every pragmatic step Netanyahu took—including those needed to get along with an Obama-led America–and ache for opportunities to threaten to walk out of the coalition or actually do so.
If such a coalition does happen it will be because Netanyahu could find no way out. It is more likely that he will do everything possible to avoid this outcome and work with some combination of other parties, including if possible Labor. Of course, such an outcome isn’t certain but is more likely than an all-rightist coalition.
The results will depend on the political math following the January 22 voting, with the key issue being how Netanyahu could assemble a parliamentary majority of 61 out of 120. Most likely would be an outcome in which the policies of the next government will be the same as the one ruling Israel for the last four years. Right now, as Israelis realize, we live in an era when Israeli policy is necessarily more reactive and defensive. There is no diplomatic option for peace and Israel has no influence over the Islamist direction of Egypt, Syria, the Gaza Strip, and Lebanon.