Early parliamentary elections in Israel brought about significant changes in the balance of political power in the country, bringing to it new, largely unexpected elements. On the eve of the elections everyone predicted a landslide victory for the current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the forces allied with him, but the triumph did not materialize. The «Likud» party led by him and the «Israel Our Home» party (Yisrael Beiteinu in Hebrew), received 31 of the 120 seats in the Knesset, officially retaining first place in parliament, and Netanyahu will soon be charged by Israeli President Shimon Peres with forming a new government. However, this is significantly less than the 42 seats, which the block had in the previous Knesset, and even more so than the 50 expected by Netanyahu and his coalition partner, Avigdor Lieberman, going into the early elections. Instead of the desired evenly colored political majority, they now need to perform a miraculous political balancing act to put together a more or less workable governing coalition in Israel. Recall if you will, according to preliminary data, which is not likely to see any real changes, in the latest election the right wing «Likud – Beiteinu» party («Our Home» A. Lieberman) won 31 seats, the centrist «Yesh Atid» («There is a Future») which took part in the elections for the first time took 19 seats, sensationally becoming the second largest faction in the Knesset, the «Labor» (Avoda) party took 15 seats, the right-nationalist «Jewish Home» took 12, The Sephardic religious party «Shas» took 11, The Ashkenazi religious party «United Torah Judaism» took 7, the social-democratic Meretz – 6, the left-green» Hatnua «- 6, three Arab parties “Habayit Hanyeudi “(not Palestinians, but Arab citizens of Israel) – 11, and the moderate-centrist» Kadima « party took 2.
A source from the «Likud» party told The Jerusalem Post newspaper that in the latest campaign Netanyahu lost his former influence in the party and may be requested to make way for a new leader.
His slogan during the election campaign was “A Strong Prime Minister for a Strong Israel,» but he lost. And now his position to form a government will be weakened. Netanyahu held early elections in order to «cement his power in the years ahead.» Instead, he now has to sit between all chairs at the same time … he merged his «Likud» party with the party of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and did so on the advice of American experts on elections and of political consultant Arthur Finkelstein. When it became clear that the situation was not developing along the patterns predicted by the visiting outside experts, the scandal drove them out of Israel as they «could not grasp the problems of this country.» However, it was too late, and the strategic alliance created has clearly not lived up to expectations.
Many members of the «Likud» party started to blame A. Lieberman for needlessly luring them into an alliance with the OHI. According to Israeli observers, the elections leading to the convening of the 19th Knesset will be remembered by the «Likud» party as one of the biggest disappointments of recent times, since the merger with the OHI has not lived up to the high expectations, which the politicians had pinned on the union. (1) With regard to the second issue on the party list, the prevailing view in the party regarding Avigdor Lieberman is that he had simply deceived them. «He sold Arthur Finkelstein’s research to the prime Minister, who said that we would get 45 seats. What was he thinking of? He secured a place for his people at the expense of «Likud» party members, “according to party sources.
However, at first glance, Netanyahu could form a coalition from some right-wing and religious (2) forces, as indicated, for example, by the president of the Institute of Middle Eastern Studies, Yevgeny Satanovsky. In this case, the main partner for Netanyahu and Lieberman is Naftali Bennet’s right-wing «The Jewish Home» Party. His good result (12 seats), according to Satanovsky, is explained by his extreme anti-Palestinian rhetoric.
In contrast to members of the government who have international obligations, «The Jewish Home Party» could openly call to» empty Ramallah «and promise that in the case of Hamas coming to power in the West Bank, to undertake the same operation as in Gaza. (3) The leader of the «The Jewish home» is multimillionaire Naftali Bennett, who has by the way, U.S. citizenship which now he will be forced to give up by law, has already declared his readiness to enter into a new cabinet.
However, a complete refusal by Bennett of any negotiations with the Palestinians and the reluctance of the religious parties to waive the privileges of their communities would mean not just marking time, but deep setbacks. Even for the not so liberal Netanyahu, that would make such a cabinet at the time of the «Arab spring «and the Obama administration’s policy of «soft power “rather odious.
The most likely future U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, who has been found by meticulous Israeli journalists to have Jewish roots, about which he allegedly «had no idea», has already warned that if the new government of Israel does not reach an agreement with the Palestinian Authority, it can mean the closure of the window for a decision on the principle of two states for two peoples, which, according to the American politician, would be a catastrophic event. He emphasized that many problems are tied to the relations between Israel and Palestinian autonomy, particularly in the Maghreb, South Asia and the Persian Gulf. (4)
The progress of preliminary consultations to form a new ruling coalition and the respective Israeli cabinet show that under these conditions, Netanyahu has made efforts to form a broad alliance of the most MPs possible, which should include not only representatives of right-wing parties, but also the left and the center. In his calculations he plans to build a coalition of at least 80 MP’s, to ensure that in the event of the resignation of no one coalition party member could his position as premier be jeopardized and make for new early elections. Everyone understands that Netanyahu’s first fear is the «Yesh Atid» party led by the new star of the Israeli political scene, the charismatic and photogenic Yair Lapid…
«Yesh Atid» with its 19 seats is seen by many as the main winner of the elections and the indispensible wild card in the formation of any viable coalition. It positions itself as a «forward-looking» modern party of the Western middle class, not the traditional type. As immediate objectives, «Yesh Atid» demands immediate entry into negotiations with the Palestinians on the principle of «two states for two peoples», there is no question of its irreconcilable position in strongly standing for the total elimination of all the privileges of the «religious groups», it demands a dramatic reduction in the size of the government and reform of the bureaucracy as a whole. There is reason to believe that the leaders of the party draw inspiration from the work of Obama and see him as their support. Without a doubt, with appropriate support from Washington, it will be able to further increase its political influence in the country.
Netanyahu has held a two-hour meeting with the leader of the «Yesh Atid» party, Yair Lapid. These actions were regarded as the official start of the formation of a coalition. (5) Although the details were not disclosed, it is believed that the Prime Minister tried to persuade the leader of «Yesh Atid» to compromise and negotiate with him about what parties will enter into a coalition. Lapid and Netanyahu allegedly agreed to include in it, other than their own parties, the «Jewish Home» and «Kadima» parties, but as regards the rest of the coalition, they are divided. So, Netanyahu wants to see the «Shas» and “United Torah Judaism” parties in the ruling coalition, while Lapid favors the «Hatnua» party of Tzipi Livni.
According to expert prognosis, Netanyahu will finally concede to Lapid and consent to the inclusion of the Tzipi Livni party in the coalition, instead of «United Torah Judaism», and Lapid will most likely be expected to consent to the inclusion of «Shas.» If both sides will agree to these trade-offs, the ruling coalition will consist of the sought after 81 deputies.
«Likud» have already leaked the fact that if Lapid accepts the offer, he will get the post of Minister of Foreign Affairs, which is currently held by the leader of «Our Home» Avigdor Lieberman. Yet at the same time, these calculations completely omit Lieberman’s ambitions, who some time ago claimed to have united almost all the «Russian Immigrants» under his command, but now he has lost quite a lot of their support. For example, he believes that Lapid’s claims are completely irrelevant.
In addition, «Likud», apparently, do not yet fully appreciate the «youthful ardor» of «Yesh Atid.» The noise from the party ranks is already: «We will not make any compromises in the fundamental question for us, even if it means that we remain in opposition.» Lapid, at least is not yet totally against any cooperation with «Shas» whose leader Aryeh Deri has served time in prison for corruption.
Representatives of «Yesh Atid» claim that they are talking about three main issues: equality in the distribution of the public burden (in other words, the conscription of the ultra-Orthodox into the army); also a marked reduction in the number of ministers and the resumption of negotiations with the Palestinians. At the same time «Yesh Atid» claims that they are not necessarily talking about the return to the practice of 18 ministers, but a reduction in the number of government portfolios. As for the negotiations with the Palestinians, «Yesh Atid» demands the announcement of a date for the resumption of negotiations. (6)
Netanyahu has faced serious challenges in his attempts to bring the forces of the left wing into the coalition. The Chairman of the «Labor Party» Shelly Yachimovich has refused to hold coalition negotiations with the head of «Likud». Earlier, Netanyahu’s offer to enter into a coalition formed by him was rejected by Meretz leader Zahava Galon.
Yachimovich instead offered to form an alliance of left and centrist forces to include «Yesh Atid.» The runner-up in the party elections promised that they would not rush into a decision.
However, experts agree that the creation of a coalition without «Likud» is also highly unlikely. Both Yachimovich and Lapid lack experience of inter-party negotiations. It will be more difficult for them to maintain discipline in a motley coalition.
Also Netanyahu was presented with a surprise by the religious parties. Concerned by growing “pressure” on them from all sides (even the OHI of A. Lieberman and Bennet’s “Jewish Home” party require the haredim «to engage in a fair distribution of public burdens»). Both «United Torah Judaism» and «Shas» are said to have commenced negotiations on the formation of a single ultra-orthodox block which will be steadfast in the pursuit of the «historical rights» of the haredim. If they can come to a common solution, this unit will have 18 seats in the new parliament. «Yesh Atid» seems altogether unlikely to remain in a coalition with this block.
It is possible that Yair Lapid will still enter a coalition with Netanyahu, not as wide, but a narrower one, without religious parties, which will make the new government extremely vulnerable in the event of “Yesh Atid» leaving and require a new election. Netanyahu, in such a situation would be a «lame duck.» Perhaps he’s already thinking that he should have got rid of Finkelstein and the other American experts much sooner.
(2) The «Religious» or so-called Haredim («those who fear or tremble») in Israel are believers who may be representatives of any party, who have asserted their right not to serve in the army and to do nothing for life other than study the Torah in special schools, yeshivas, while receiving state grants . There are about 1 million of them, and they are an increasingly prohibitive burden on the state.