There are two new elections polls out, both following the trends of the last few weeks. First, Netanyahu’s right-Orthodox bloc is pulling ahead, now polling 67.5 seats in our average (out of the Knesset’s 120). As I argued when the elections were called, it’s clear that no candidate but Netanyahu will be able to form the next government.
But another story is unfolding before our eyes, and that’s the rise of the extreme right. The National Religious Party – traditionally the political home of the settlers – is now polling at around 13 seats. The more extreme Otzma LeYisrael, led by former Kahane man Michael Ben Ari, passes the Knesset threshold in roughly half of all polls, generally getting between two and three seats. That’s 15-16 seats, compared to the seven both parties have in the current Knesset. The popular leader of NRP, Naftali Bennett, was attacked by almost all other parties this weekend for an interview he gave in which he said he would ask his army commanders to relieve him from evacuating settlements, were he ever to receive such an order. It seems that Bennet only benefited from the controversy.
At the same time, the Likud-Beitenu party (the joint ticket of Prime Minister Netanyahu and resigning Foreign Minister Lieberman) is registering an all-time low since the unification was announced, with 35.5 seats, as opposed to the 42 they have now. Add to that the rise of the settlers and other hawks within the Likud itself, and you get the story of the elections: the rise to power of a new right-wing elite, which is firmly commited to the settlements. Recent developments, like the recognition of the college at Ariel as Israel’s first university in the occupied West Bank, or the refusal of Likud leaders to even pay lip service to a Palestinian state, should be seen in this context.
This graph shows the numbers for the Likud vs. the (even more) extreme right in the last couple of months.
There were some speculations that Netanyahu would try for a centrist and even a secular government after the elections, but if those trends continue, the Likud will simply be too small, and the prime minister will need to return to his “natural allies” at the right. In both cases, it’s clear that the next Knesset will deepen Israeli control over the occupied territories, and more right-wing representatives will fill the ranks of Israeli bureaucracy, justice system and security establishment. What’s happening in these elections is beyond a question of the political fates Netanyahu or Lieberman, and it reflects a deep change Israel has been going through for two decades or more.