So the election in Israel is over. But the process has just begun. There were some definite surprises in Tuesday’s election. It was widely known that the Likud-Beitanyu merger would take less seats combined than the two parties held separately going into the election. The 18th (and outgoing Knesset) had Likud with 27 seats and Yisrael Beitanyu with 15. So together they had a combined 42 seats. In the 19th Knesset, they will have 31 seats. Not a minor setback for current Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu.
Kadima, although in the opposition, was the largest party in the 18th Knesset with 28 seats. In the 19th, it looked at first like they might not break the 2% threshold needed to qualify for a single seat. After a final tally, they did manage to emerge with 2 seats (of 120 total seats in the Knesset). Of course, that is not taking into account the fact that Tzipi Livni, head of Kadima until recently, formed her own party, Hatnua, and they managed to take 6 seats. Still a giant step backwards for the once-powerhouse party formed by Ariel Sharon to pull Israel into the future just eight short years ago.
The three Arab parties, much to the dismay of the larger Arab world, earned 11 seats, the same as they held in the 18th Knesset. That puts the Arab parties at just under 10% of the Knesset, despite the fact that Arabs make up roughly 20% of Israel’s population.
On the other hand, Jewish Home, under the leadership of scorned Netanyahu aide Naftali Bennett, came away with 12 seats, up from 3 in the previous Knesset. Jewish Home was actually polling higher and were thought to be headed for a second place finish.
The “big winner” of the election was Yair Lapid, head of Yesh Atid (“There is a Future”). Lapid was a a journalist, an actor and an author before going into politics at the beginning of last year. He formed his party with an eight-point platform:
1) Changing the priorities in Israel, with an emphasis on civil life – education, housing, health, transport and policing, as well as improving the condition of the middle class.
2) Changing the system of government.
3) Equality in education and the draft – all Israeli school students must be taught essential classes, all Israelis will be drafted into the Army, and all Israeli citizens will be encouraged to seek work, including the ultra-Orthodox sector and the Arab sector.
4) Fighting political corruption, including corruption in government in the form of institutions like “Minister without portfolio”, opting for a government of 18 ministers at most, fortifying the rule of law and protecting the status of the High Court of Justice.
5) Growth and economic efficiency – creating growth engines as a way of fighting poverty, combating red tape, removing barriers, improving the transportation system, reducing the cost of living and housing costs, and improving social mobility through assistance to small businesses.
6) Legislation of Education Law in cooperation with teachers’ unions, eliminating most of the matriculation exams, raising the differential education index and increasing school autonomy.
7) Enact a constitution to regulate tense relations between population groups in Israel.
8) Striving for peace according to an outline of “two states for two peoples”, while maintaining the large Israeli settlement blocs and ensuring the safety of Israel.
They won 19 seats, making them the second largest party in the current Knesset. The party is considered center-left and it is looking possible that Yesh Atid will join Bibi in building a coalition and that Yair Lapid will assume the role of Foreign Minister.
Meretz, a left wing party, doubled their numbers from 3 to 6. Labor, the historic party of Israel’s founding increased from 13 seats to 15, making them the third largest party in the 19th Knesset.
The numbers have shifted a bit during the final tallying of the votes, but it is looking like the 19th Knesset will be split virtually down the middle. The center-right/right/Orthodox parties holding 61 seats; the center-left/left/Arab parties holding 59 seats.
Netanyahu is working furiously to form a coalition, he has vowed to make it the “broadest coalition possible.” What that means is not yet known. He can pull to the right or the left. Working from the center will be trickier. If he can manage to bring Yesh Atid and Jewish Home into his coalition, he will just squeak by. However, whether those three parties can live together in a coalition is questionable. Bibi can also pull further left, attempting to bring in Yesh Atid, Labor and Hatnua. This would give the coalition a slightly larger majority, but even assuming that it was possible, it could very well break Likud Beitanyu (and even Likud itself) apart in the process.
Who Bibi convinces to join him could very well effect Israeli politics in significant ways for a generation. It could spell out the end of the road map, once and for all, and officially end the path to a two-state solution. It could also be the end of the situation wherein the Orthodox in Israel receive an exemption from military service. It could definitely have serious repercussions, one way or the other, on the settlement movement. (Naftali Bennett has explicitly stated that he does not believe that there can be a Palestinian state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean and that the settlements should be considered permanent. If Bibi attempts to pull to the left, his current policies on settlement expansion will almost certainly be a sticking point in coalition building.)
Regardless of what happens, it probably will not effect what Mohammed Morsi thinks of “The Jews” or Barack Obama thinks of Bibi Netanyahu. But it’s the Middle East, so stranger things than that have happened.
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