Tuesday, January 22, 2013
The Surprising Israeli Elections
Votes are still being counted, but as the elections in Israel move to a close, there have been some surprising results.
The Likud-Yirael Beiteinu unity list is predicted to win 31 mandates, the highest total of any party but still well below the 42 seats they started out with.
One of the biggest shockers was Yesh Atid ('There is a Future'), TV personality Yair Lapid's party, which is predicted to win 18-19 mandates. Yesh Atid is a centrist party whose main message was essentially economic dissatisfaction, emphasis on social issues and the insistence that all Israeli Jews serve in the military, with no more exemptions for the haridim.
Bayit Yahudi('Jewish Home') ended up with 12 seats, an excellent showing compared to where they were but not as high as the previous polls showed them getting. Apparently Netanyahu's negative campaigning had an effect.
Shas, the Orthodox religious party mainly focusing on Sephardi Jews, those originally from the Middle East and Southern Europe ended up with 11 mandates, while United Torah Judaism, a religious party on the right ended up with 6.
On the Left, Labor ended up with 17 seats, while the EU-funded far Left Meretz and Tzipi Livni's Hatenua appear to have ended up with 6-7 each, depended on who's counting.
The Arab parties ( Hadash, Balad and Ram) look to end up with 10 mandates.
Now comes the fun part.
While Netanyahu will still almost certainly get nod from President Peres to form the new government with himself as Prime Minister, he's going to have to put together a coalition in order to govern.This involves compromise, horse trading of ministries and perks and moderating positions on issues that surfaced during the campaign.
My personal guess would be that he taps Yair Lapid and Yesh Atid for starters. It would give the new government credibility in the social welfare department, and Lapid and Netanyahu have a number of areas of agreement when it comes to economic issues. Also, Yesh Atid pretty much has no real foreign policy positions, and it's not their focus. That would bring Netanyahu to 49-50 seats, 11 or 12 shy of the 61 he needs.
After that, there are a number of ways Netanyahu can go.If he does pick Lapid, he probably is going to have trouble getting Shas to serve in the new government with Yesh Atid. By the same token, Shas' spiritual leader insultingly referred to Jewish Home and Naftali Bennet as 'goyim' because they favor allowing civil marriage in Israel, so any government that included Shas would have to smooth those bumps over, and it's not going to be easy.
If we assume Shas is out of the picture, then Netanyahu can either choose to bring Labor in for a unity government (66-67 seats) or he can try to bring in United Torah Judaism and Jewish Home ( 66-67 seats when combined with Yesh Atid's 18-19 seats)for a center right coalition.
The idea of pairing Labor with Likud, Yirael Beiteinu and Yesh Atid is asking for trouble, just as it was in the 18th Knesset when Labor revolted against Ehud Barack and left the government.If I were Netanyahu, I wouldn't even consider it.
Of course, another real possibility would be a combination of Labor, Yesh Atid, Meretz and Livni's Hatenua, which would amount to 49-50 seats. To govern, they would have to bring in Shas or Jewish Home, both of which are a highly unlikely fit.And they would have to fight it out amongst themselves as to which Indian was going to be chief, even less likely!
So, why did Likud/ Yisrael Beiteinu lose so much ground? A lot of it was sheer timing. An election in September would have gotten them a much better showing.
Another factor was the combined list, which meant that a number of Israeli politicians in both Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu with no hope of getting into the Knesset this year because of their low placement on the list simply didn't go all out to work the streets this election.
And finally, Netanyahu's attacks on Bayit Yahudi and Naftali Bennett backfired badly. Most of their vote cam from Likud, and the every attack fed uncertainty on the Right about Netanyahu's bonifides.
So the next step is seeing whom Netanyahu and Likud pair up with.
By the way, as a side note, remember the remarks pro-Obama columnist Jeffrey Goldberg quoted President Obama as making, saying that 'Israel doesn't know it's own best interest.'?
Well U.S. officials in Israel are now conceding that not only did President Obama make those remarks and that it was done with the deliberate intention of hurting Netanyahu at the polls, but that it backfired badly.
I can verify that last bit. Israelis across the spectrum were outraged