(/sites/default/files/uploads/2015/02/el.jpg)With more than a month before the Israeli elections scheduled for March 17, 2015, what emerges from recent polls is that a right-of-center coalition is more of an apparent outcome. It would leave Benjamin Netanyahu as Prime Minister. The Knesset (Parliament) TV Channel poll, published on February 10, 2015 shows small variation from the previous week’s poll by the same channel.
In this week’s poll, Netanyahu’s Likud party drops 2 seats (mandates) from 25 last week, to 23, still behind its harvest of 27 seats in the 2009 elections. For the upcoming 20th Knesset elections, the Likud signed a “surplus vote” agreement with the Jewish Home party of Naftali Bennett.
Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Our Home party is steadying with 5 seats, same as last week, but at a significant drop from the 2009, 18th Knesset elections in which Israel Our Home garnered 15 seats. In the 19th Knesset elections (2013), Likud and Israel Beitenu (Israel Our Home) ran in a combined list and received only 31 seats, a decline of 11 from the previous election.
Lieberman’s party’s precipitous decline is due to rampant corruption and police investigations that have bedeviled Lieberman and his party MK’s (members of Knesset), for several years. In addition, the Russian speaking immigrant base, and especially the acculturated younger generation, has tended to look elsewhere politically. In his quest to be a player in the electoral game and assume a position of power, Lieberman has attacked Likud Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, accusing him of being ineffectual. He simultaneously attacked the Labor leader, Itzhak Herzog and Tzipi Livni of the Zionist Camp on his Facebook page, stating, “It is not enough to call yourselves the Zionist Camp. A true Zionist does not surrender to Arab threats.” Lieberman also signed a “surplus vote” agreement with Moshe Kachlon’s party, named Kulanu (All of Us).
Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home (Bayit Yehudi) party has come down a bit from previous highs in the polls. A few weeks ago the party reached 17 seats in the polls, but fell to 13 last week, and 12 in the current poll. Bennett’s use of his ‘personal selection’ option to draft former Beitar Jerusalem soccer star Eli Ochana, and place him 11th on his list, backfired. It caused a raucous response within the party ranks, particularly since Ochana is secular.
Bennett’s attempts to recruit voters from the secular community generated a backlash. He appealed to his Knesset colleagues, imploring them to lift their heads high. Bennett charged that it would be a pity if religious Zionism was to return to the back seat. “Our place,” he said, “is at the driver’s seat. We have,” he stated, “a profound message: The People of Israel, in the Land of Israel, with the Torah of Israel.”
An earlier poll (January 19, 2015) by the Knesset Channel suggested that if Naftali Bennett’s Bayit Yehudi party and Netanyahu’s Likud party would merge their lists, they would receive 40 seats. A joint list with Bennett would give Netanyahu a clear path toward another term in office. Together, with Eli Yeshai’s Ha’am Itanu’s (the People are With Us) 6 projected seats, Torah Judaism’s 7, Moshe Kachlon’s Kulanu party 6, and Avigdor Lieberman’s 5, Netanyahu would have 64 seats, enough to form a like-minded government. The left Bloc, in this case, could only garner 56 seats, including 11 from the Arab parties and the Zionist Camp’s 24 seats, Lapid’s Yesh Atids, 11, the Leftist Meretz, 6, and Ariyeh Deri’s Shas, 4.
For now, however, the balance of power is less clear, albeit, the Right-of Center Bloc is still better situated. The religious parties including United Torah Judaism, the Ashkenazi Haredi party, Shas, the Sephardic ultra-orthodox party, and Eli Yeshai’s party, Ha’am Itanu (the party split from Shas), would invariably side with the Likud and the Right Bloc. Yaakov Litzman’s United Torah Judaism received 7 seats in the latest poll, same as the week before. Shas gained a seat from 6 to 7, and Eli Yeshai also gained a seat, from 4 to 5. Shas is currently behind its 11 seats gained in the 2013 elections. If Eli Yeshai’s seats were included, the Sephardic party would actually gain a seat.
Moshe Kachlon’s Kulanu party is the new face on the electoral map. Kachlon, previously the Likud Communications Minister, resigned to form his new party and dubs it a “centrist” party. It came in strong in early polls, but has since lost some steam. The current polls show him gaining a seat from 8 to 9. Given his ideological proclivities, Kachlon is more than likely to join the Likud-led coalition. But, in the Israeli bizarre political marketplace, he may be swayed by an attractive position to join the Left Bloc.
Yitzhak “Buji” Herzog, leader of the Labor Party, united with Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua Party to form the Zionist Camp. Herzog and Livni agreed to a rotation system where each would serve as Prime Minister for two years should they form the next government. In 2013, the two separate parties received a total of 21 seats (15 for labor and 6 for Livni). In the current poll, the Zionist Camp drops from 24 to 23. Livni, who has traveled opportunistically from the Likud to Kadima (Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s party), abandoned her colleagues in the 2013 election cycle, and founded the Tenuah (Movement) party. Last December, she once again abandoned her colleagues, joining the Labor Party to form the Zionist Camp. Livni traversed the length of the ideological spectrum. The daughter an Irgun commander (Prime Minister Begin’s led underground), she began her political career in the Likud, moved to the Centrist Kadima, and is ending up in the Left-of-Center Labor Party.
Herzog was Labor Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s Knesset Secretary, and was implicated in the illegal funds investigation that followed the 1999 elections. It was in the 1999 elections, too, that the Clinton administration openly aided Ehud Barak’s defeat of Netanyahu. Similarly, in this election cycle, President Obama’s refusal to meet Netanyahu is a rather transparent effort to provide the Left in Israel with a cudgel against Netanyahu. This time however, it may backfire.
The Zionist Camp can count on Yair Lapid’s 12 seats (up from 11 last week) and Zahava Gal-on’s Leftist Meretz party to form the basis for a coalition government. Meretz has steadied in the polls at 5 seats. The united Arab parties’ steady performance in the polls at 12 seats might serve a Left-of-Center coalition as a backup. Still, with 52 seats, such a governing coalition would need to bring in Shas (7), which may cause the secular leftist Meretz or Lapid’s anti-religious Yesh Atid to bolt. Yair Lapid’s star is not exactly shining, and his current projected yield in seats is down by at least 7, from 19 seats in 2013.
In successive polls, when asked who they would prefer as Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu emerges at the top. In a sample poll of 690 people, Netanyahu received 48% to Herzog’s 25%. As to the impact of the Obama – Netanyahu tiff on the Israeli electorate, America matters a great deal, and good relations with Washington counts. At the same time, President Obama’s low popularity in Israel, and the U.S. administrations none-too-secret efforts to defeat Netanyahu may boomerang.
The Right-of-Center Bloc led by Netanyahu’s Likud, along with the Jewish Home and the three religious parties will generate 54 seats. Adding Lieberman’s 5 seats and pulling votes from Kachlon would do the trick. Short of that, the only option would be a Unity government with the Zionist Camp.
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