Recent attempts to form an ‘anti-Bibi’ bloc among the centrist parties may very well drive right-wing voters back to the prime minister’s hands.
One outcome of the unusually short election cycle that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu imposed on the Israeli political system – in an attempt to prevent any serious challenge to his position – is the rapid developments and changes we have been witnessing in the last few weeks. I will deal with some of those issues in this round up, but it is important to note first that nothing too major has actually happened: our poll tracker, which was updated this weekend with seven recent polls, still shows Netanyahu’s right-Orthodox bloc with at least five seats above the magic number of 60 – the minimum required to form a coalition. It is a very big lead, especially given the small margin of error that the aggregation of seven polls produces.
So what did change?
1. Likud-Beitenu is losing ground. Netanyahu’s joint ticket with Lieberman is now polling under 34 seats (the two parties currently hold 42 seats), which means that the Likud itself can end up with as little as 22-23 members of Kensset, while the rest will belong to Lieberman. This will make life incredibly hard for Netanyahu, especially given the fact that many of those future Knesset members will work together with the hard right. Some observers assume that if the Likud ends up with 33-34 seats or less, the next government won’t hold for more than a year or two. I am not so sure.
2. The settlers are about to register a major triumph, well above their actual power. How did it happen? At least four organized groups of settlers – the most well-known being Moshe Feiglins’s “Jewish Leadership” faction – entered the Likud and were able to register major victories in the party primaries. This forced even the more “mainstream” ministers to move to the right, outside the party’s “moderate” flank. But – and this is the catch – the settlers and their national-religious supporters now seem to be gathering behind Naftali Bennett’s “Jewish Home” party, which has an even more extreme list of right-wing radicals behind him (none of them appearing on the campaign itself, in order not to ruin the all-Israeli appeal Bennett is working on). We can expect anywhere between 20 and 35 very extreme members – the likes of Danon and Feiglin – in the next Knesset, which will certainly be an all-time record. They will operate as a bloc, forcing Netanyahu to create a right-wing government, and to carry out major items on their agenda, such as nominating Moshe Ya’alon as Defense Minister, or other influential nominations to the Supreme Court.
3. For this reason, Labor’s Shelly Yachimovich won’t be invited to the government, and Livni’s price will go down as well. This reality made the two introduce the idea of an anti-Bibi bloc over the weekend. In an effort to get back some of the lefty voters that deserted her, Yachimovich announced on Thursday that she will not join Netanyahu’s coalition and called on other centrist parties to do the same. Livni responded, but former Channel 2 anchorman Yair Lapid announced that he “will not leave the coalition in the hands of the right and the Orthodox.” So, we now know who will be the first “centrist” to fall into Bibi’s hands after the elections.
4. Netanyahu was interviewed on two radio stations on Sunday morning, complaining that other parties have joined hands to oust him (it’s called elections, dude). Bibi is trying to scare back some of the Likud voters that deserted him. If they sense danger, the prime minister believes, those voters will rush home. The so-called “center bloc” (which never stood a chance) could end up turning things around for Bibi.
Around the time Bibi was trying to rally the troops again, Avigdor Lieberman told Haaretz that his party will split from the Likud after the elections. Again, this is an obvious attempt to stop the bleeding. Even more than those of Likud, Lieberman’s voters did not like the joint ticket, and polls suggest that three out of four non-Russian voters have moved to support to other parties.
5. A lot depends on the actual allocation of seats following the elections, but if I had to guess now, I would say that the next government will include the Likud-Beitenu (either as one party or two), Bennett’s Jewish Home, Shas, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, and one or two small factions that could end up in the Knesset (Am Shalem or Kadima, though the former might be taboo for Shas). That’s a coalition of 70-74 seats, which is a nice size with a fair chance of lasting a long time. Livni may be invited as well, but I am not sure she will decide to enter, since she won’t have much influence in such a coalition.