Israeli elections: who is the likely winner?

Voting slips for the Israeli elections. Each letter-slip represents a different party.   They have been arranged to spell out "The truth is they are all liars".

Voting slips for the Israeli elections. Each letter-slip represents a different party. (via Rina)
They have been arranged to spell out “The truth is they are all liars”.

After my depressing last post, it was slightly heartening to read some differing views without the usual vituperation on who the pundits think the likely winner of the elections will be. It is also rather educational to learn about how Israel’s government coalitions are formed.

I was extremely surprised, considering Haaretz’s consistent extreme-left opinions and visceral opposition to the right-wing, to read this article telling us all that it’s time for a reality check, because it’s a virtual given that, according to Steven Klein, Binyamin Netanyahu is most likely going to be the next PM:

Various media in Israel and abroad continue to speculate that Isaac Herzog could cobble together a coalition against all odds, and replace the incumbent prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. They delude themselves that it’s 1999 all over again, the last time Netanyahu fell, that Herzog’s chances “appear” to be higher than earlier in the election campaign, or that a unity government with a rotating prime minister is a viable scenario.

Folks, it’s time for an intervention.

There is no scenario in which Isaac Herzog will be Israel’s next prime minister, no matter what he declares or what the press reports.

1) The Israeli public is indifferent to media “scandals” about Netanyahu. […] The fact that Likud has steadily held around 23 seats in the polls since the whole brouhaha over his speech to Congress and Sara’s bottle-gate began in January, compounded by reports about his personal expenses and the state comptroller’s report on housing demonstrate his Teflon quality.

2) Security and credibility. The left was permanently discredited by the failure of Oslo, and Herzog has nothing to offer to inspire public confidence that he would bring genuine change for which it would be worth giving up the status quo […]

3) The numbers game: Since being discredited by Oslo, the true left (Labor, Meretz and the Arab parties), which never held fewer than 48 seats through the 1999 election, has never had more than 34 seats since the 2003 election. While they should break through that barrier this election, the left is still looking at no more than 41-42 seats; hardly enough to make a serious bid to reach the minimum of 61. Yet, the Joint List refuses to join any government, so even if Zionist Union wins the most seats out of any party, it will still fail to build a left-wing coalition.

4) The center-left bloc myth: This myth, more than any other, keeps alive false hopes about post-election scenarios. […]

Leaving out the Arabs, no conceivable center-left bloc tops even 50 seats, let alone 60. Why not? Besides the centrist Yesh Atid, the moment Zionist Union tries to corral right-of-center parties, it loses Meretz, because the right-wing parties won’t sit with this truly leftist party.

5) The political and socioeconomic status quos are still holding. The Israeli public has not voted for dramatic change except in the wake of significant blows to the status quo. […]. Yes, Israel has fought wars in recent years, but the security situation is much more tolerable than it was during the years of the second intifada. And the economy is stumbling but unemployment is low; the stock market is high; and homeowners do not see rising housing prices as a crisis the way the media does. In short, the time is not ripe for change.

To quote Netanyahu’s favorite game: check mate.

From the polar opposite of the political spectrum, David Rubin in Arutz Sheva has also published an article wondering who the winner will be:

In the latest polls, Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu’s Likud appears to be running neck in neck with Yitzhak (Buji) Herzog and Tzipi Livni’s joint party. However, in Israel’s proportional election system, the party that wins the most votes doesn’t automatically form the government. The prime example was in 2009, when one of Livni’s previous parties, Kadima, won 28 seats in the Knesset to the Likud’s 27, but she couldn’t put together the necessary majority with the other parties in the 120 seat Knesset.

With the latest polls showing the race between the two main parties too close to call, the real question becomes the relative strength of the middle-sized parties such as Naftali Bennett’s Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home), Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, and Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu, which are all currently estimated to receive between 8-13 seats. Another central question is what kinds of coalition deals will be formed in the days and weeks after the elections. One of the highlights of of the previous elections was the unlikely post-election pact between Bayit Yehudi and Yesh Atid, which strengthened the post-election bargaining power of both. The eventual collapse of the Bennett-Lapid pact was, to a great extent, what led to the recent breakup of the governing coalition and to the upcoming March 17 election, as the right- left and religious-secular divide between those two medium-sized parties proved too great to pass the test of time. The subsequent infighting within the coalition then became unbearable as the unshackled Lapid moved to his more natural position on the left of the political spectrum.

Unless the Union of Arab parties, with its expected 12-14 seats, is invited into a possible Herzog-Livni coalition, the Left’s prospects for gaining a Knesset majority are slim at best. Given a close election, that leaves Netanyahu as the likely head of the next coalition.

Rubin notes that the direction of the next government will be dictated by the center blocs rather than by Bibi or Buji (aka Netanyahu and Herzog). They will be the king-makers in any coalition, but on the other hand, assuming Netanyahu is tasked with forming the next coalition, anything goes, as Rubin cynically writes:

Netanyahu will likely be tasked with forming the next government, after which he will probably use the threat of a Bibi-Buji-Tzipi unity coalition to keep all of his potential junior partners in their place and to lower their demands. Following through on that threat would, of course, contradict his explicit and repeatedly stated campaign pledge not to join coalition forces with the Left, but then again, after Election Day, anything goes, right?

Having mentioned the left and the right ends of the media, here is David Horovitz, a centrist if ever there was one, who comes to a similar conclusion as to the expected winner in his Times of Israel article “Has Israel got the 6-year itch with Netanyahu?” (h/t cba in the comments):

Much of the Israeli electorate doesn’t particularly like him, but much of the Israeli electorate still seems to prefer the flawed prime minister it knows to the various untried alternatives. Poll after poll after poll has shown Netanyahu 8 percent, 10 percent and more ahead of Zionist Union’s Isaac Herzog as Israelis’ preferred prime minister, with all other pretenders still further back. Within the political system, by contrast, the animus engendered by Netanyahu should not be underestimated. Zionist Union’s Herzog and Tzipi Livni, along with Meretz and the Joint Arab List, needless to say, are dedicated to ousting him. Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid, who has generally steered clear of negative campaigning, reiterated in a TV interview on Monday that he is doing everything in his power to ensure that Netanyahu not head the next government. Kahlon, as mentioned, would self-evidently rather run alone and hope to become finance minister than throw in his lot with Netanyahu and guarantee himself that same job. Liberman tore up his alliance with Netanyahu last year, and criticizes the hesitancy and indecisiveness of Israel’s current leadership at every opportunity. Oh, and President Rivlin isn’t too fond of him either.

Israel faces no end of challenges that require astute leadership and smart policies. Internally, the transition of the Israeli economy from labor-intensive agriculture and manufacturing to high-tech, while enabling admirable sustained growth overall, has exacerbated widening inequalities. Combine that with the alarming cost of housing, and you find an increasing proportion of Israelis, including families with two hard-working breadwinners, who can’t get on the housing ladder and who can’t make it through the month. Externally, in case you hadn’t noticed, Iran is closing in on the bomb, and the free world seems staggeringly disinclined to stop it. In Gaza, Hamas and Islamic Jihad are gearing up for the next round of conflict. In Lebanon, Hezbollah has ten times Hamas’s firepower, ready to launch when Iran gives the signal, and Iran-Hezbollah are now overtly gearing up to fight Israel from the Syrian side of the Golan Heights as well. Across the region, Islamic extremist terror groups seek to fill every possible vacuum. As regards the West Bank and East Jerusalem, we sit at a perilous moment, with the diplomatic process deadlocked, and the potential escalation of terrorism an ever-present danger.

In such a climate, you’d think the Israeli electorate would be scrutinizing the platforms of its competing would-be leaders, to try to gauge which of them have the strategies to best ensure Israel’s ongoing well-being. Instead, however, these elections largely amount to a referendum on Netanyahu: Do we or do we not want more of the man who, after a first stint in 1996-9, has now governed us for six more years since 2009, and is thus already our longest-serving prime minister after David Ben-Gurion? Are we sticking with the Bibi-Sitter (a campaign ad so resonant because it depicts Netanyahu as the responsible adult keeping Israelis tucked-in, safe and warm)? Or have we got the Six-Year Itch?

Helping Netanyahu hugely, however, is the sense — borne out by those surveys on who Israelis want as prime minister — that Herzog has not managed to convince a constituency beyond the center-left that he’s the man to lead Israel. The Labor-Hatnua merger into the Zionist Union has only added two or three seats to their combined force — hardly a dramatic rise, and hardly the upsurge they would have wanted against a long-serving, not particularly popular prime minister.

Israelis might like a prime minister who combines Netanyahu’s experience, Herzog’s decency, Lapid’s energy, and Kahlon’s optimism and charm. Given half the chance, President Rivlin would impose a coalition that features all of them.

Horovitz assesses the characteristics of the different parties and combined lists, and also comments on the vicious media campaigns conducted mainly against Netanyahu.

But in the end he comes to the only sensible conclusion:

Don’t believe the polls

a) Because minor discrepancies can remake the electoral constellation, and the polls just aren’t good enough to avoid minor discrepancies.

b) Because the pollsters are facing a combined Arab list for the first time, and there’s simply no way of knowing how high turnout will be in the Arab sector. Will the Joint Arab List win 11 seats or 15? Nobody knows.

c) Because the raised electoral threshold — you now need 3.25% of the vote nationwide to get seats in parliament, compared to just 2% last time — could also remake the coalition arithmetic. […]

d) Because lots of Israelis haven’t made up their minds yet.

Dr. Ron Weiser in Jews Down Under  remarks that the elections are not about substantive issues since both major parties are of similar minds on all the major issues which might explain the indecisiveness of the Israeli voter, calling the elections “a Seinfeld moment”:

The most amazing thing about the coming Israeli election is that with so much going on in the region and with so many internal issues needing attention, when it comes to policy issues this is a Seinfeld election – an election about nothing – a policy free zone.

This leads to the particular irony that despite there being few substantial policy differences between all bar one of the political parties, many people claim that Israel is polarised and divided.

… This is not an election about whether to make peace with the Palestinians, this is not an election about what to do with Iran and this is not an election on the results of the recent Gaza war.

This is also not an election about haredim, social justice or numerous other internal issues.

This is an election about Bibi Netanyahu and optics.

The polarisation is around the Prime Minister himself.

The truth is that Bibi has a long history of being a poor election performer and has never been strongly supported by the voters.

At the same time, the truth is also that with the exception of one devastating electoral defeat in 1999 to Ehud Barak, no-one has come along who is much more popular than Bibi either.

The Likud under his leadership regularly achieves only around 20% plus/minus of the total Knesset seats – and all of the problems of governing flow from that statistic.

So, in short, Bibi is not all that popular, but no-one is more popular.

Let’s hope that all these pundits are right in their assessments. We will find out on 18th March, and probably not even then. Only when the dust clears and the coalition is formed will we know who truly won this vote.

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10 Responses to Israeli elections: who is the likely winner?

  1. Reality says:

    Having read this heartening blog ,you have cheered me up,as all the papers today are talking about Bibi franticallt trying to rescue the elections,with Bennet in a similar panic.To add petrol on the fire,Peres has declared Herzog the only possible answer any sane Israeli would choose.I’ve been depressed all day!

    • anneinpt says:

      Well, it’s true that Bibi is in a panic, and Bennett too to a lesser extent. But Bibi is always panicked when under pressure. Considering his experience it is surprising how badly he performs under pressure.

      But these articles make sense to me although I hope it’s not just wishful thinking. The fact that Haaretz said so makes it more likely.

      As for Peres, what did you THINK he would say? Duh. I wouldn’t take him seriously. He never won an election in his whole life. The only time he was PM was because there was a rotation agreement with Begin (or Shamir?), and then he reneged on it. Not someone worth listening to, especially with his track record of Oslo and his refusal to recant it when it was so obvious what a disaster it had been.

  2. Pete says:

    “So, in short, Bibi is not all that popular, but no-one is more popular.”

    And in the end, it is not about popularity. Israel needs a real leader who can make the toughest decisions. The people don’t have to like Bibi – they just have to respect him.

    We will see how the 18’th works out.

    The world is shaping up for a new series of battles. It is not just Israel and Iran. It is the standoff between Putin and the West. It is the “creeping invasions” by China into the South China sea. It is the uncontained spread of radical Islam across Northern Africa. We are headed towards more wars. Israel must try to sail its way across these angry waters.

    Pete, USA

    • anneinpt says:

      That is why the Israeli electorate is so ambivalent. They’re fed up with Bibi because nothing really seems to be changing for hte better, and yet most don’t seem to want Herzog or Livni because they fear they’ll make things worse.

      But I’m still scared teh “hope and change” vote will win. It worked in America after all. Except our disaster is likely to be existential.

      You make very good points about teh instability of the entire world at present. to my mind Bibi is the only leader strong enough and experienced enough to sail our “ship of state” through those troubled waters. But I’m only one vote. There are another few million out there…

  3. Pete says:

    ANNE … there is a huge piece of news out there. If I understand this correctly, the Iranians have decided to scrap the nuclear agreement with Pres Obama and Mr. Kerry. I am sure this will generate enormous discussion in the media. The final paragraph from the Council of Guardians in Iran says the following …

    “Thank you once again for this enlightening exchange. Prompted by your letter, our council has decided to end the talks with your secretary of state and dismiss nuclear inspectors from our country. We look forward to working with you in the future on other matters of common interest, such as prayer, capital punishment, and troops in Iraq.”
    Sincerely,
    Council of Guardians

    The Islamic Republic of Iran

    WOW!!
    This is a biggie!!!

    Pete, USA

  4. Pete says:

    ANNE … OK scrap my last comments. You can delete the previous post if you want. Though some people might hope that report was true, it was appears it was just a piece of media parody. At least as far as I can tell. There is no separation on the Internet any more, between news reports and opinion pieces. it is a quagmire out there.

    Pete, USA

    • anneinpt says:

      LOL. Don’t worry, you’re not the only one who fell for it. I think the parody was so believable because some Republicans really did write a letter to the Iranians, warning them that the deal would be null and void if they come to power. Or something to that effect.

      Fun and games, never a dull moment here! 🙂

      • Pete says:

        The irony would be IF the Iranians did reply back with a letter like that 🙂

        The irony for Bibi and Israel is that today the UN members are already deciding how to drop the sanctions on Iran. The deal isnt’ closed yet for Pres. Obama and Kerry, but already people want to sign business contracts with Tehran.

        Pete, USA

  5. Pingback: Israeli Elections: ‘It’s Us or Them’ · Global Voices

  6. Pingback: Israel’s Elections: ‘It’s Us or Them’, ‘Anyone but Bibi’ and Everything in Between · Global Voices

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