This is going to be short, as I'm sure you have no time for long election coverage, especially as we all know who's going to be the next PM.
Don't waste too much of your time paying attention to a possible "united bloc" of the center-left. A. Because this is mostly spin aimed at getting more votes from within the bloc. B. Because the center-left bloc can't stop Netanyahu (that is, unless all polls are wrong, or if vast numbers of people change their minds in the next two weeks). C. Because pre-election promises of unity don't mean much in the post-election coalition-talks season.
That Netanyahu said this morning that unification of the center-left is the "real beginning" of the election is also spin. What the PM wants is for voters to be scared into believing that he might not win unless they vote for him. As long as they feel certain that he'll be the next PM no matter how they vote, it's much easier for them to abandon him for what they see as the more attractive alternatives within Netanyahu's natural "bloc".
We've been saying all along that the interesting part of the coming election will begin the day after – when Netanyahu is tasked with forming his next coalition. He'd really like it to be more "centrist" than the "bloc" – in other words, he really doesn't want to be the most dovish member of his incoming coalition. But he might end up being exactly that.
What is Netanyahu's coalition going to look like? Two Israeli bloggers, Dr. Ely Kovetz, a Tel Aviv University physicist, and architect Dan Marcus "co-write an election forecast blog called 'Batel Be-Shishim' in which they try to make scientifically-based predictions" – that's Israel's Nate Silver style attempt at making predictions. The blog is in Hebrew, but Kovetz and Marcus kindly agreed to let the Domain publish an English version of some of their graphs – these will help us understand coalition building in a visual way.
Let's begin with the blocs though. Readers of the Domain are familiar with the concept – we have the bloc-tracking of Israel's top pollster, Prof. Camil Fuchs, as a weekly feature (take a look at the most recent graph). Fuchs divides the 120 mandates into two blocs – right and left – Kovetz and Marcus only have 110 in the left and right blocs, and Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid Party as the "center bloc" of (currently) 10 mandates. Here's the graph projecting probabilities for the number of mandates of the right and left blocs:
And now the second Kovetz-Marcus graph – dividing the blocs into parties and projected mandates. This graph was updated on January 5, according to polls taken in the days prior:
So what do we learn about Netanyahu's coalition by looking at this graph?
A. He has one without the center-left, namely, the only leverage the center-left has over him is the threat of him having to head a coalition of which he is the most dovish member.
B. He can in take the "center"– namely Yesh Atid – and give up on one of his "natural" rightist partners. But then Yesh Atid would become a major player in the coalition, having the de facto power to topple Netanyahu.
C. If Netanyahu wants a coalition without the Haredi parties, he'll have to include both Lapid and Livni's Hatnua. Since the Arab parties, Meretz and lately the Labor Party have all announced that they will not be joining any Netanyahu coalition, this would be his only alternative.
D. Forming a coalition that is politically more centrist – without the hard-right – is also going to be tricky. He can leave Habayit Hayehudi out and make do with Lapid or Livni – but also with a very small coalition. This would make him a hostage of both of the centrists to his left, Likud rebels to his right, and the Haredi parties.
E. A better solution for him would be to have both Lapid and Livni within the coalition if he wants Habayit Hayehudi out – but trouble within Likud is all-but-certain to ensue.
Bottom line: Netanyahu needs his bloc, and would like to add Lapid or Livni or both to the coalition. The problem for him is obvious: Lapid and Livni both have party members who are very critical of Netanyahu's presumed foot-dragging on the peace process – Habayit Hayehudi is all about preventing Netanyahu from going in that direction (the party supports annexation of 60% of the West Bank).
Reasonable conclusion 1: Netanyahu will be forced to head a right-religious coalition. This will make him very uneasy, and is likely to result in a lot of international pressure and an early date for yet another round of elections.
Reasonable conclusion 2: Netanyahu will somehow find a way to broaden the coalition – but this will not be a stable political marriage of opposite worldviews, and yes, is likely to result in a lot of international pressure and an early date for yet another round of elections.
Netanyahu and his people are right to argue that the only path to a stable coalition is more power to the Likud-Beiteinu list – the main building block of the next coalition. As of now, Israelis don't seem convinced. Maybe they don't want a stable coalition. Maybe they feel that the set of choices they have been offered in this round is far from satisfactory, and would like to have another chance at bettering their ruling majority in the near future.
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