Israel election outcome almost a forgone conclusionby ben sales, jta
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Uncertainty is an inherent condition of democratic politics, but one outcome is all but certain in next week’s Israeli elections: the right wing will win and the left wing will lose.
Almost every party acknowledges that the merged Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu factions will take the most seats and be the standard-bearer of the next coalition government. For the fifth straight election, the center-left Labor will likely lose.
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Likud prime minister, almost definitely will win another term. Likud-Beiteinu is expected to amass 33 to 38 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, nearly twice as many as the likely runner-up, Labor, which should receive 17 to 20.
Netanyahu’s biggest challenge leading up to the Tuesday, Jan. 22 election has come not from his traditional sparring partners on the left but from the right, where the hawkish Jewish Home Party has enjoyed a meteoric rise in the polls.
The ascent of Jewish Home has been the biggest story of the campaign. When elections were called in October, pundits expected the religious Zionist party to win seven or eight seats. Now most polls have the number at 14 or 15, on track to be the Knesset’s third-largest party.
Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett, a newcomer to politics following a high-tech career and leadership positions in the settler movement, has engineered the gain by courting secular right-wing voters and adopting some progressive economic policies.
But Bennett, whose parents made aliyah from the Bay Area four decades ago, is no moderate. He opposes the creation of a Palestinian state under any conditions and has said he would disobey a military command to dismantle settlements, though he later walked back from that position.
The party’s fortunes will depend on whether voters trust Bennett’s promises of tighter security and cheaper housing, or remain wary of a party that skews far right on certain national security and religious questions.
Polls now show the party taking about 10 seats, but if Yesh Atid gains 12 or 13, it will mean that Lapid’s economic message has struck a chord as Israel confronts a budget deficit of more than $10 billion.
If voters perceive Lapid as unprincipled or inexperienced, they may turn to the one centrist party focused on Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations: Hatnua, which was founded and is led by Tzipi Livni, a former Kadima head and ex-Likud minister.
Livni has spent the entire campaign bashing Netanyahu for his alarmist rhetoric on national security. But she has not vowed to oppose his coalition and could give him cover to move forward on negotiating a peace agreement with the Palestinians if he chooses.
Hatnua has polled similar numbers to Yesh Atid. A seat number that reaches the teens would indicate that a constituency still exists that supports peace negotiations. A mediocre Hatnua showing would confirm the perception of many Israelis that the conflict will not be resolved in the coming years.
As Livni, Lapid, Yachimovich and Bennett jockey for potential spots in a Likud-led Cabinet, one political bloc’s numbers will likely remain fairly stable: Haredi Orthodox parties have 15 seats now, a number that is expected to slightly increase. The haredi platform, however, has become increasingly unpopular, as more and more Israelis oppose full-time yeshiva students receiving government stipends while avoiding the nation’s mandatory military conscription.
A sliver of hope does exist for a centrist victory, with Livni and Yachimovich still campaigning as if they have a shot at the premiership. According to two polls, some 20 percent of voters are undecided. If they all vote centrist, the centrists may be able to cobble together a governing coalition.
At this point, though, that looks like a fantasy for Labor, which leaves it in the same place it’s been since 2001: figuring out how to fit into a Knesset where the right runs the show.
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