Saturday, January 5, 2019

A Better First Look at the April 9 Israeli Elections

PM Netanyahu has announced new elections for April 9, 2019. What does this mean?

With a coalition of only 61 seats after Lieberman took Yisrael Beiteinu out last month, Netanyahu found himself unable to pass any meaningful legislation. The test case was the bill to draft the ultra-orthodox into the army, which was voted down in December.  Netanyahu delayed the announcement to clean up a security issue on the northern border, and then announced new elections to be held on April 9, 2019.

The Makeup of the Last Knesset follows.  Note that “zionist union” was a combination of Labor, led by Avi Gabbay and Hatnuah, led by Tzippi Livni.  The highlighted parties were in the current coalition.  A party needs to gain 3.25% to win seats, and the 120 seats are apportioned according to the winners’ relative vote totals to each other.

The Last Election (2015)

Party                           Leader                                     % vote             Seats               +/-

Likud                          Benjamin Netanyahu          23.4%                   30                    +12
Zionist Union            Isaac Herzog                         18.67%                 24                    +3
Joint List                    Avman Odeh                         10.54%                13                    +2
Yesh Atid                   Yair Lapid                                8.81%                  11                    -8
Kulanu                       Moshe Kahlon                       7.49%                  10                    New
The Jewish Home    Naftali Bennett                      6.74%                    8                      -4
Shas                           Aryeh Deri                               5.73%                    7                      -4
Yisrael Beiteinu       Avigdor Lieberman                5.11%                     6                      -1
United Torah J.         Yaakov Litzman                      5.03%                     6                      -1
Meretz                       Zehava Gal-On                       3.93%                     5                      -1

What will happen now?

First, parties come and parties go.  Leaders jump ship, and try to vie for the list that will give them the best chance to be part of a powerful coalition.  The United Arab List was a necessary combination of several Arab parties, in order to exceed the 3.25% minimum, and they won 10 seats as a result.  Here's what to look for:

There are three new parties:   Former army chief of staff Benny Ganz has strong early polling numbers for his Hosen L’Yisrael.  Benny hasn’t given a speech yet, so he is a wild card.  Gesher, led by MK Orly Levy-Abekasis is also new, but not unexpected.  She has been exiled from Yisrael Beiteinu for the past 2 years, and is a socially minded centrist, and anti-Netanyahu.  She is likely to receive support from disaffected Kulanu, and Yisrael Beiteinu voters.  In addition, MK Bennet and MK Shaked have left The Jewish Home to form "The New Right," with a strong settler/modern orthodox base.

United Torah Judaism and Shas will likely run together.  Both parties have internal leadership conflicts, and it is entirely possible that alone either of the Haredi parties could fall below 3.25%, leaving the Knesset without half  of the haredi representation.  Together, they could take 10% and win 12-14 seats, maintaining their current strength.  The difference between 12 haredim and 6 haredim for coalition math is significant, so despite enormous and ugly conflicts, they may need to get along.

The Zionist Union has dissolved.  Gabbay ousted Lipni in a nasty and public way.  Expect Labor and Hatnuah to continue, smaller than ever, separately. There is now a tremendous vacuum left of center, which someone will undoubtedly fill. Each is likely to lose a few of the seats that they had, making any potential left wing coalition a near impossibility.

Yesh Atid, Kulanu, the Arab Joint List and Meretz will all continue without significant policy shifts.  Of these, Kulanu - having tied itself to economic policy in a fiscal downturn - may be the most vulnerable. Yesh Atid could take advantage of the commotion on the left, or may fall victim to disaffected supporters who are tired of being on the outside, and want to support one of the new parties.

Yisrael Beiteinu will struggle for survival. Avigdor Lieberman is a visible and strong leader, who conflicted with Netanyahu over the handling of Hamas rockets last fall.  He will position himself on security issues and supporting settlements. Will he remain solid, or slip? With a former army chief of staff (Ganz) in the race, he may not win with this position. This is a shocking situation, since he left the government in December expecting to get 10-12 seats in the new Knesset.

The Jewish Home may not survive.  Without Naftali Bennet and Ayelet Shaked, this will become a much more religious settler party if it makes the 3.25% threshold.  Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben Dahan is the heir apparent to the party.

Likud has some unique internal term limits, and by rule 25% of the current list of 30 MK’s will not be eligible to be on the list this time around.  Netanyahu, however, will lead the list and set the agenda for the elections. Unless something dramatic happens to shift the playing field, expect a strong Likud showing, akin to the last election.

Finally, remember that the PM is elected separately.  Netanyahu will win against all comers, so this is irrelevant.  He will have the first chance to form a coalition, and with a bevy of center-right and right wing parties - all weak - vying for his attention, he will have any government that he wants.

Summary:  Expect a right wing coalition to again form a government.  Polls are very preliminary, so the following is wild guesswork with something like this:

Party                           Projection                leader                          (right/left/center)

Likud:                         30 seats                     (Netanyahu)                      (right)

Then the wheeling and dealing begins for the 31 other seats needed to get a majority.  A right wing government is possible without the haredim, but as always it is easier with them:

Haredi:                       11 seats                     (Shas/UTJ)                         (religious right)
Hosen L’Yisrael:        10 seats                      (Ganz)                                (center?) 
Kulanu:                      8 seats                        (Kahlon)                             (right of center)
Jewish Home:           5 seats                        (Ben Dahan)                      (right of center)
The New Right          5                                  (Bennet/Shaked)              (right)
Yisrael Beitenu          5                                  (Lieberman)                      (right)

Parties that have declared they are not willing to join Netanyahu, or are unlikely to be invited into the new government:

Joint Arab List:          13 seats                                                                (Arab)
Yesh Atid:                  10 seats                     (Lapid)                                (center)
Avodah:                     9 seats                      (Gabbay)                           (left)
Hatnuah:                   6 seats                       (Livni)                                 (left of Center)
Gesher:                      4 seats                       (Levy-Abekasis)                (center)
Meretz:                      4 seats                       (Gal-On)                            (left)

If Ganz has the kind of showing that the polls indicate, then Netanyahu can consider a right wing coalition without the haredi parties.  This would be attractive, as it would allow him to continue to support the settlers and right wingers while still passing the immensely popular draft law.  

BOTTOM LINE: Netanyahu will again win the elections, and easily form a right wing coalition either with, or without the Haredi parties.  Benny Ganz and MK Levy-Abekasis stand ready to be the big “newcomer” winners, while Shas/UTJ will need to get along in order to survive.  A large reshuffling is happening in the center and left-of-center camps, and the Feb 21 deadline for parties to “combine” lists in the election, so stay tuned!

(Please note that the prior post "a first look" has been removed and replaced by this post.)

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