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Israeli elections round-up: Image of the next Netanyahu government emerges

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.

Yair Lapid, leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party, announced over the weekend that he intends to join the right-wing government that Prime Minister Netanyahu is expected to form. (photo: Yotam Ronen / Activestills.org)

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.

Read more: 
+972 Magazine elections coverage
Vote for Arab-Jewish parties, or don’t vote at all
Putting together Netanyahu’s next coalition might be trickier than it seems

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    1. aristeides

      Will there even be a Kadima after the elections?

      Reply to Comment
      • It’s not clear. According to our poll tracker they sometimes pass the threshold and sometimes don’t. If they do end up in the Knesset the party will probably survive and become the platform for Ehud Olmert’s return. This is why he is campaigning for them.

        Reply to Comment
    2. There seems to be a trend: elites redefine a party or create a new one, only to find electoral instability later. So Sharon and Kadima, Barak and his forgotten Labor split, now Lieberman who says he will exit the very coaltion he just formed. This tracks as well with J14, some of whose “leaders” have moved into Labor, but with the movement itself not retaining a visible identity. So while party structure is top down, elite decisions within parties are creating fluid voters–with, however, no place to park in other ogranizations between elections. (NGO’s seem quite elitist as well.) Could if be that the dismantling of Labor dominance, starting with Begin, has left a vacuum in political formation?

      Reply to Comment
      • aristeides

        Somewhere between the ephemeral ad hoc parties of Israel and the entrenched unshiftable dinosaurs of the US is a better way to do political parties.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Carl

      Sometime Noam, I’d like you to write an article that’s dead wrong.

      This reads as a depressingly likely prediction.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        I agree this is a pretty good analysis as is most of Noam’s writing. I don’t think I am as depressed about it as you are.

        Noam’s articles on 972mag are the only thing here really worth reading. He is a far-leftist but doesn’t let his political beliefs get in the way of sober and solid analysis. I respect that.

        Reply to Comment
    4. Piotr Berman

      My impression is that the new Israeli government is precisely the reason that Hagel was nominated for Defense, with his history of caustic remarks about Jewish lobby. The lobby itself was pretty tepid in the opposition. The leaders made some statements, but the American Jewish commentariat except for neo-cons basically revolted, and some argued that in the light of the extreme right shift in Israel, a “bad cop” in Washington is precisely what a good doctor would order for the health of Israel.

      There is a huge contrast between now and 4 years ago in this respect. It remains to be seen if this will translate into something substantive, or more precisely, how it will translate. Clearly, any notion of an attack on Iran is swept to the trash can, but the issues like the settlement expansion may follow soon. In the meantime, this is a beautiful quote from a discussion on Hagel:

      “[He said that he] would do anything to avoid needless, senseless wars. Is it a reasonable statement?”

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        If Hagel was nominated just to be mean to Israel then I expect a mea culpa from every moron here that argued that Obama is not pro-Israel.

        Reply to Comment
        • Piotr Berman

          It is increasingly a mainstream consensus that expansions of settlements and attack on Iran are both bad in itself and detrimental to Israel. This is why so many American Jews supported Hagel. Being “mean” to a stupid government may be what a country cursed with such a government badly needs.

          Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            If someone had said before the election that Obama would nominate Hagel for SecDef they would be attacked for undermining Obama’s pro-Israel credentials. Likewise, if someone had said that Obama plans to be mean to Israel after getting elected. So, I expect a mea culpa from everyone who told me that Obama would be pro-Israel in his second term. They were completely full of crap.

            Reply to Comment