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Does Herzog have a chance at unseating Netanyahu?

While Herzog’s chances appear to be higher than they have been for most of the campaign season, he still faces an uphill battle to unseat Netanyahu in an election almost entirely devoid of debate on the issues.

Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog. (Photo by Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog. (Photo by Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

For one of the first times in the current election campaign, the centrist “Zionist Camp” actually has a chance of ousting incumbent prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

In Israel’s parliamentary system, the premiership is held by the Knesset member who is able to form a coalition around him or herself. Almost no single party has been able to form a government without a coalition constituting a 61-seat majority of the Knesset.

In 2009, for example, Tzipi Livni headed the largest party but was unable to form a coalition of 61 or more members of Knesset to form a government, leading the way for Netanyahu’s second government.

The rise of centrist party Yesh Atid and most recently, Kulanu, the traditionally large Left and Right parties have shrunk, with both polling between 23 and 25 seats for the next Knesset. As explained here in my previous election analysis, the scattered power of smaller and medium-sized parties makes forming and holding together a governing coalition difficult, which is the reason cited by Netanyahu for calling new elections.

The allegiances of the newer centrist parties, much like the ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties in the past, are expected to be less principled and could easily join either a left- or right-leaning government led by Herzog or Netanyahu, respectively. However, Lapid’s “Yesh Atid” is less likely to support a Netanyahu government and Moshe Kahlon’s “Kulanu” is more likely to join Likud, the party which he broke off from.

With the Zionist Camp and Likud virtually tied in the polls, the name of the game is coalition building. As it stands, either side could ostensibly form a government with the support of the ultra-Orthodox and one or more of the centrist parties.

A Labor government, according to the latest polls, could consist of: the Zionist Camp (24 seats), Yesh Atid (11 seats), Kulanu (eight seats), United Torah Judaism (seven seats), Shas (seven seats), and Meretz (five seats), for a total of 62 seats, just enough to form a government.

If you assume that the Arab Joint List will throw its support behind the formation of a Herzog-led government from the backbenches, then Herzog could ostensibly have the support of nearly 75 MKs.

A Likud government, according to the latest polls, could consist of: Likud (23 seats), Jewish Home (13 seats), Kulanu (eight seats), United Torah Judaism (seven seats), Shas (seven seats), Israel Beitenu (six seats), and at least part of Yachad (between two and four seats, assuming it passes the election threshold). The grand total for a possible Netanyahu government, therefore, could be between 64 and 68 members of Knesset.

However, even though the ultra-Orthodox parties and Kulanu may be willing to join a Herzog government, in all likelihood, they will probably support Netanyahu at the point when the president decides who is given the chance to form a coalition. In such a scenario, Herzog would have only 50-plus recommendations to form a government.

Herzog’s best chance for improving his chances is if Yesh Atid manages to continue climbing in the polls, stealing seats from Kulanu and the Likud, and by convincing the ultra-Orthodox parties to back him in the recommendation stage. Likud and the Right, however, are traditionally seen as more friendly to the religious population and may therefore have better chances at wooing the ultra-Orthodox.

So ultimately, while Herzog’s chances appear to be higher than they have been for most of the campaign season, he still faces an uphill battle to unseat Netanyahu. And in an election almost entirely devoid of a debate on the issues, and facing an incumbent whose biggest strength is political survival that may be a very difficult task.

A third option, of course, is that Herzog and Netanyahu could form a unity government. Doing so could offer the most politically stable government, but would also be dangerous for both men considering how it would alienate their respective political bases.

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    1. Pedro X

      Two polls today. Cartography (a Likud more friendly poller) has Likud at 27 seats and Labor (Zionist Camp) at 23. TRI/Channel 10 poll (not so Likud friendly) had Labor at 25 and Likud at 23 seats.

      An average of polls prior to today’s polls had Labor one tenth of a seat ahead.

      The real race will be the race to cobble a coalition together within 60 days of the election. Herzog’s and Livni’s people have had a difficult time working together. I wonder how Herzog will handle another 3-4 more parties and their demands. Netanyahu already has the experience of handling multiple parties with diverse aspirations and goals.

      Reply to Comment
      • C.C. DeVille

        I doubt it.
        A scenario that requires Yesh Atid with Haredi parties with Herzog to broker does not seem stable. I also think that Kulanu is a more natural fit with Likud.
        For these reasons, I still see Netanyahu being asked to from the coalition first.

        We shall see!

        Reply to Comment
    2. Behnam Shahariyari

      Arab parties should not participate in any zionist party, because that would legitimize the zionist entity. Even if it means BB is relected, it doesnt matter because Iran will solve the problem finally

      Reply to Comment
      • Brian

        I think most of you have figured this out by now, but ‘Behnam Shahariyari’ = ‘Viktor Arajs’ = probably Baruch Gottesman or someone similar = right wing troll.

        Reply to Comment
        • Shahariyari

          Why dont you respond to the substance of my argument rather than calling me a troll. It seems that you are a mentally deficient zionist

          Reply to Comment