What early elections portend for Israel.
Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired his finance minister (Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid) and justice minister (Tzippi Livni of Hatnua), both coalition partners, effectively bringing down the current government and forcing new elections now scheduled for March 17.
The latest polls suggest that Netanyahu would be able to form the next coaltion.
According to a Channel 10 poll, Likud would win 22 seats, Jewish Home 17, Labor 13, Yisrael Beytenu 12, Moshe Kahlon’s as-yet-unnamed party 12, Yesh Atid nine, the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism eight, Shas seven, Meretz seven, Hatnua four and the Arab parties nine.
A survey by Channel 2 showed Likud with 22, Jewish Home 17, Labor 13, Kahlon and Yisrael Beytenu with 10 apiece, Yesh Atid with nine, Shas with nine, United Torah Judaism with eight, Meretz with seven, Hatnua with four, and the Arab parties with 11.
Both polls would have made pleasant reading for Likud leader Netanyahu, showing a strengthening of the right, and numerous potential coalition options for him.
However, a lot can happen in four months. For example two years ago, Likud created a joint list with Yisrael Beiteinu (Avigdor Liberman’s party) and then the combined list lost ten seats in popularity polls in the final month of the campaign.
What’s noticeable in these numbers is that Lapid’s Yesh Atid has dropped ten seats from its current complement in the Knesset. It’s a reminder that Israel has parties that are vanity projects that do quite well for one election and then flame out. Lapid, a political commentator with now economic experience capitalized on economic dissatisfaction for his run (and he also took a strong stand against the Chareidi population in Israel) and demanded the post of finance minister. The economy hasn’t improved much over the past two years so, understandably, Lapid and his party are suffering.
The as yet unnamed Moshe Kahlon party are a group of Likud defectors, whose strength is likely coming at the expense of Likud.
According to these polls Kadima, the party founded by Ariel Sharon, would disappear. (Tzipi Livni’s left Kadima to start her own party.)
In one of the best analyses I’ve read of the election so far, Haviv Rettig Gur notes that despite the fact that the election is about Netanyahu, and the Left believes that it can win running against him, he’s not appreciably less popular now than he was in the last election.
Thus, in a late-November Globes poll that asked about each party leader’s “fitness” to be PM, Netanyahu got just 33% – but his competition trailed far behind, with Labor leader Isaac Herzog garnering just 15%, Jewish Home head Naftali Bennett 12% and Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid just 6%.
In the days before the last election, in January 2013, a Times of Israel poll found that Netanyahu’s approval rating after nearly four years of a Netanyahu-led government was just 39% positive and 57% negative. Or, as pollsters report such figures, his net approval was -18.
He won that election.
People may be tired of Bibi, but no one else in government has effectively made the case that he’s unfit for leadership. Here’s the challenge according to Gur.
After all, the one-third of the electorate that consistently supports Netanyahu comes from a relatively unified right-wing bloc, while the two-thirds that dislike him are made up of centrists, the center-left, the far-left, the far-right, Arabs and the ultra-Orthodox. The real question – the question center-left parties are scrambling to discover as they ponder uniting into an anti-Netanyahu coalition – is whether the disparate opposition to Netanyahu can coalesce into a real threat to his premiership. Which leader of the center or left can unite enough of the anti-Netanyahu electorate to mount a serious fight? And which can offer a credible answer to Netanyahu’s most resonant accusation against the center-left: that it is an irresponsible steward of the economy and peace talks?
Gur writes that Netanyahu doesn’t really fear the Left, but he fears someone like Lapid or Kahlon. (According to Gur one reason Netanyahu fired Lapid was to pre-empt a budget that would have given Lapid a major legislative achievement. Netanyahu apparently also believed that after passing the budget, Lapid was going to bolt the coalition. It is uncertain if that was Lapid’s plan or not.)
Having the largest party in Knesset doesn’t guarantee its leader the premiership. It is the party deemed most likely to form a governing coalition that is given the first chance to do so. (Likud narrowly finished second to Kadima in 2009, but Netanyahu was given the opportunity to form the government.)
The polling is still preliminary and today Israel Hayom is reporting that there’s a fifty-fifty chance that the dissolution of the government could be postponed.
My guess is that Netanyahu really doesn’t want to sit in government with Lapid, but sensing some vulnerability he also doesn’t want new elections.
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