Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Israel's Elections Consolidate Opposition To Bibi

Exit polls from Israel are predicting a tie or a win for the Likud party and Israel's Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Full results may not be available until Friday. The two major parties - Likud and the Zionist Camp - are predicted to win around 27 seats in Israel's 120-seat Knesset. Medium-sized parties are predicted to win between 10 and 13 each, and small parties between 5 and 6. To reach a 61-seat majority, the winning party will have to form alliances with multiple parties, creating the possibility of a fairly unstable coalition.

Israel's President, Reuben Rivlin, will have 7 days to pick a party to form the next government, and that party will have 28 days to do so. As predicted, the two medium-sized centrist parties, Yesh Atid and Kulanu, will play a critical role in this regard. Pending any big surprises, neither Likud nor the Zionist Camp will be able to form a government without Yesh Atid or Kulanu. This situation making these centrist parties the kingmakers in Israel's next government. One important development to watch over the next week is whether these two parties agree to join the same list, or (more likely) let themselves be pursued by Likud and the Zionist Camp.

A unity government between Likud and the Zionist Camp is also a possibility, though it will require some cooling off from this weekend's fever-pitch rhetoric. Such a coalition may not necessarily be stable given ideological differences between Likud and those of the Zionist Camp.

Even if President Rivlin chooses Netanyahu to form the next government, the Prime Minister will have paid a price for an electoral win. Netanyahu's intent on calling early elections was likely to renegotiate a coalition in which he would be stronger. While certain coalitions could produce this result, the campaign created the opportunity to consolidate a significant opposition to the Prime Minister. It also pushed the Likud to use messaging that sounded desperate at best and racist at worst. At this point, a Likud win is still more likely than a Zionist Camp win. However, the close results point to a deep dissatisfaction in Israel with the status quo - a challenge that Prime Minister Netanyahu will need to address if he intends Israel's next government to be long-lasting.

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