Pre-election surprises and unexpected turns and twists are the norm in Israeli politicians. Things change all the time and nothing is truly set.
Israel’s Foreign Minister Lieberman who heads the Yisrael Beiteinu party that has merged with Netanyahu’s Likud has just been indicted. This might have been serious business in another country, but the Israeli judiciary is controlled by the hard left and such indictments are fairly routine. Most top Israeli leaders have either been indicted or investigated for something. That atmosphere leads to a contempt for the judicial system.
The charges against Lieberman are routine and not all that serious, which means that there is a good chance that despite his temporary resignation, he isn’t going anywhere. No one has taken the trouble to fake rape charges against him, as was done to Israel’s former president, so the left hasn’t gone nuclear on Lieberman yet. And even a tabloid-ridden public might be suspicious of so many sexual assault charges against top political figures in so few years. Unlike filing abuse of power and economic accusations, these start to look suspect.
The bigger news though is the latest poll shows that Bayit Yehudi, the new conservative alternative to the Likud, moving up to 16 seats. With Kadima toast and Labor at 17, an actual conservative party might become the second or third largest party in the country, and be the big partner in a Likud coalition government.
To understand what this means, imagine if the Tea Party ran as a third party and took 10 percent of Congress. That’s even bigger news in Israel where no single party has a dominant majority of seats.
The Likud Israel Beiteinu alliance only scores 35 seats in the latest poll, or a third of the Knesset. Bayit Yehudi and Likud/IB together however will form the core of a coalition with a choice of partners from religious to secular. Netanyahu will still be in the driver’s seat, but a lot of the driving will be done by Bayit Yehudi.
Israeli conservatives have run alternative parties before, but their influence has been limited and was declining in recent years. If these numbers hold, then a gamechanger has taken place, likely because of the Hamas and Palestinian Authority shelling of major cities.
Hamas may have given Israel its most conservative government in history. But it’s not the only party responsible for this mess.
Netanyahu and Lieberman made the poor decision of merging parties in response to the threat of a leftist superparty. But the left never fielded such a party. Instead its parties are busy fighting each other. Labor has become a viable opposition leader, but it’s handicapped by Livni’s own private party, which scores seven seats. It’s technically called Hatnuah, but most people are referring to it as the Tzipi Livni Party, which tells you something, and it features a roundup of experienced political losers.
Yesh Atid, the left’s fake third party that was supposed to break out this election, is doing well enough with 12 seats, but it clearly has not broken out, because the election is coming down to security, even as the left feinted toward the economy.
Take all that together and Israel may be headed for the most conservative government in its history. But of course all this could change by next week.
Welcome to Israeli politics.