The complete election results are finally in, with the soldiers’ votes having been counted over the last day, and the numbers having changed slightly, with Kadima squeaking past the threshold with 2 seats, Bayit Yehudi gaining one seat for a total of 12, and the Arab Ta’al party losing one seat, sinking to 4. The final numbers are:
In the final count, Likud won 31 Knesset seats, Yesh Atid 19, Labor 15, Bayit Yehudi 12, Shas 11, United Torah Judaism seven, Meretz and The Tzipi Livni Party six each, the three Arab parties a total of 11, and Kadima two. This gives the Right bloc 61 seats and the Center-Left bloc 59 in the next Knesset.
And now the real work begins:
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu began the process of building a new governing coalition on Wednesday with his Likud Beytenu ally Avigdor Liberman and the big winner in Tuesday’s election, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid.
Netanyahu agreed with Lapid and Liberman that the next government would focus on reducing housing costs, reforming the electoral system, and equalizing the burden of military and national service. But they did not agree on which parties should be in the coalition and who should receive the top portfolios.
The prime minister would prefer to give the Foreign Ministry position to Lapid, who speaks perfect British-accented English and whose moderate image could improve Israel’s ties with the United States and Europe. But Liberman said he wanted to return to his former job once he is clear of his legal troubles and suggested that Lapid be finance minister.
I’m not so sure I like the idea of Lapid as finance minister. He has no political experience at all, let alone managing the budget of an entire country. Would he be able to steer us through the current world economic turmoil as safely as Yuval Steinitz? The foreign ministry sounds more suitable, but will he be too amenable to European and American pressure?
Vice Premier Moshe Ya’alon, who is a former IDF chief of General Staff, is expected to be given the Defense portfolio.
That’s much better news, and a huge improvement over Ehud Barak.
As for the actual nitty-gritty of coalition-building, the Post continues:
The least likely coalition to be formed is a bloc of only the 61 MKs from right-wing parties. A national unity government with Labor is also seen as extremely unlikely, even though several Labor MKs expressed interest in joining the coalition.
Lapid wants The Tzipi Livni Party to be added to the coalition, for a total of 70 MKs, but Netanyahu prefers that Shas and United Torah Judaism be added instead. He tried to persuade Lapid that both Yesh Atid and Shas needed to be in the government to work out compromises on IDF conscription.
While since the election, Netanyahu has spoken to Lapid and the leaders of Shas and UTJ, he appeared to make a point of not calling Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett.
The Jerusalem Post reported last Wednesday that Netanyahu would only invite Bayit Yehudi to join the coalition once a majority of 61 MKs was in place, so he would not have to worry about the party remaining in the coalition following diplomatic concessions, such as the removal of unauthorized West Bank outposts.
If this is true then this is extremely worrying news. I hope this is just guesswork rather than an “unofficial” leak.
Regarding the culture clash between the haredi parties and Yesh Atid the two parties had this to say:
Yesh Atid’s second-placed candidate, Rabbi Shai Piron, had tough words for Shas, and promised that his party would not agree to sit in government with the haredi faction if it meant compromising on its core principles.
“We won’t be part of a government of which Shas is the defining identity, in which Shas has a large influence on its character, on its tone, on the discourse, and on its priorities,” Piron said on Army Radio.
Shas triumvirate leader Eli Yishai expressed optimism, however, that his party would help form the new government. He pointed to the thin majority a Likud Beytenu-Yesh Atid- Bayit Yehudi coalition would command without Shas, saying that such a government would not last long.
“Let’s be done with the campaigning and spin, and form a stable government,” Yishai said. “For sure it will be complicated, but we need to all sit down together, without exception, and discuss what’s good for the Jewish people and for the State of Israel.”
The Times of Israel has a useful graphic illustrating the political blocs in the 19th Knesset.
A very incisive article by David Horowitz of the Times of Israel puts the entire election and its results into perspective when he asks “What just happened?”:
1. Israel did not move to the right
Remarkably, given the regional instability and consequent Israeli wariness, the right-wing bloc took a bit of a pasting. It’s a more hawkish right-wing bloc, but it’s a smaller one, somewhat less able to get its own way. Instead, Israel moved a little to the center, as exemplified by the remarkable debut of Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid. [...]
2. Netanyahu is battered but he’s still a winner… almost certainly, with some serious caveats
[...] Tuesday’s was a vote for change. Dozens upon dozens of sitting Knesset members were swept aside. But Netanyahu rolled with the wave, and here he is again.
3. But his Likud party is a big loser
The Likud held 27 seats in the last Knesset. Now it will have only 20 — out of the 31-strong incoming Likud-Beytenu faction. Brace for lots of bitterness in the Likud [...]
4. Yair Lapid is a resounding success
[...] So far, Lapid has charted an impeccable course, showing real nous, notably by dodging a formal alliance with Labor and Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua before the elections. A partnership with either or both of those parties could only have cost him votes. It’s hard to imagine that many Israelis who think of themselves as coming from the center or center-right of the spectrum would have backed a Yesh Atid that was allied with center-left and left-wing parties, but many such voters clearly did opt for his independent party. His repeated declarations that he was not hostile to ultra-Orthodox Jews, however much derided by commentators and doubted by the ultra-Orthodox themselves, may well have boosted him too — and underline the difference between his approach and that of his overtly feistier father. He also wisely steered well away from his Machiavellian family friend Ehud Olmert.
5. Yesh Atid shows there may actually be an Israeli political center
Lapid’s party has taken 19 seats from all over the spectrum, with a canny mix of candidates and an inclusive approach that evidently resonated with much of the electorate. [...]
6. Labor’s Shelly Yachimovich has strictly limited appeal
The “revitalized” Labor party under social justice champion Shelly Yachimovich fared only two seats better than the tired old Labor Party under security expert Ehud Barak four years ago. [...] Other potential Labor voters felt the lack of compelling policies from Yachimovich on peace and security. The hard-core peaceniks went to Meretz; Lapid, with ex-Shin Bet chief Yaakov Peri at his side, may well have attracted many of the Yitzhak Rabin-style Labor hawks. Livni took some Labor votes too.
7. Naftali Bennett can fly higher
So elevated were the expectations in the Jewish Home that a final result of 11 (or maybe 12) seats is seen by some in the party as a disappointment. It’s anything but. In barely two months, Bennett lifted a party that won just three seats in 2009 and — by force of will and personality, and by dint of his mixture of experience in the army’s most elite commando unit, at Netanyahu’s side in the prime minister’s office, in business and in running the settlers’ council — quadrupled its Knesset strength. [...] Bennett remains a man with a mission — to infuse his stream of Orthodox Judaism into secular Zionism. He isn’t done yet.
8. Israel’s Arabs do themselves a disservice
While we wait to see whether the three Arab parties wind up with 11 or 12 seats between them, the fact remains that the Arab community punches below its weight because of its relatively low election turnout. If Israel’s Arabs came to the polls in greater numbers, they’d get more representatives into the Knesset, [...] Even the Arab League internalized the simple virtues of Israel’s vibrant democracy this time and urged Arab Israelis to turn out and vote. To little effect.
9. The right-wing/Orthodox camp threw away several crucial seats
The biggest party to fall below the 2% Knesset threshold was the far-right Otzma Leyisrael. The second biggest was maverick ex-Shas MK Haim Amsalem’s Am Shalem. There was lots of talk before polling day about the costly disunity on the center-left. It seems that the costlier disunity was in the right-wing/Orthodox bloc. [...]
10. We remain a very divided nation
The weeks of intense coalition-building negotiations we likely now face might be seen as reflecting an unwieldy electoral system that is again putting a dozen parties into a 120-seat parliament. But ours, in turn, is an unwieldy, sectoral public, with its mix of Jews, Arabs, radical righties, radical lefties, the ultra-Orthodox, the fiercely secular and all manner of folk in between and far beyond.
Within hours of the polling booths closing, both he and Lapid were articulating a desire for a wide government. Lapid specified that it be a grouping of “moderate” parties. Now we wait to see what he meant by that vision, and whether he and the prime minister, spurred by a fascinating election outcome, can find the common ground to implement it.
Fascinating it certainly is. Also scary, exciting and nerve-wracking. Which probably sums up life in Israel altogether.
As a final coda to this post, I thought it interesting that our eastern neighbour Jordan held its own elections yesterday, but what a different experience that was:
Turnout in Wednesday’s election just topped 50 per cent, the authorities said, higher than some feared after the most powerful Islamist party, the Islamic Action Front, a local branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, urged voters to stay away.
But the dominance of pro-regime parties in the new assembly will damage its credibility at a time when King Abdullah is trying to manage calls for reform at home and deal with overspill from Syria’s civil war on his northern border.
The new parliament will be the first to elect its own prime minister – previously, the king reserved to himself the job of appointing a government. However, key policy areas will remain in his hands, including foreign and security policy.
“This is a sham election whose results will only erode the credibility of the future parliament,” said Zaki Bani Rusheid, deputy head of the Muslim Brotherhood. The group also claimed the official turnout was a wild exaggeration.
The Brotherhood claims that the election boundaries are gerrymandered to favour the pro-royal countryside rather than the cities that are its base, and home to the country’s majority Palestinian population.
When we peek over the borders I can’t tell you how glad I am to live in Israel with its noisy and hyperactive democracy, despite its convoluted electoral system and unwieldy governing coalitions. If our Arab neighbours only enjoyed the freedoms that we do, what a paradise on earth this region could be.