Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Post-election analysis

Now that the results are in, what are we to make of yesterday's election? Who will become Prime Minister? What will be Israel's next coalition government? What message did the voters send? Were there any surprises? Let's sit back, have some coffee, review what happened, and look ahead to what's in store.

First, let's look at the results. Tzippi and her Kadima party has apparently received the most votes. I say apparently, because her party only leads Bibi's Likud by one seat, 28-27, with the military votes still left to be counted. If, as expected, Bibi gets a delegate boost once these ballots are counted, Likud will tie Kadima in mandates and Bibi will almost certainly be chosen as the one to form a coalition government.

In truth, it's almost impossible to imagine a scenario where Livni could become Prime Minister. The left was absolutely taken to the woodshed and flogged by Israelis at the booths yesterday. For a government to be able to take power in Israel, they must first assemble a majority coalition of at least 61 MK's (out of 120 total seats). Looking at Livni's options, that seems virtually impossible. Below I have listed the parties that will NOT be joining Bibi's coalition along with the number of seats they won.
  • Kadima: 28
  • Labor: 13
  • Arab parties: 11
  • Meretz: 3
  • Total: 55
Now, the Arab parties and Meretz have already declared they will not join any coalitions, and intend to sit in knesset as opposition. That leaves only Kadima and Labor with a total of just 41 seats combined to build a government. This is a mathematical impossiblity, because even if they were somehow able to persuade (bribe) Yisrael Beitenu's 15 seats to join them they would still have only 56 seats, 5 short of a majority coalition government.

Conversely, Bibi has a very solid majority government that he could successfully assemble immediately.
  • Likud: 27
  • Yisrael Beitenu: 15
  • Shas: 11
  • United Torah: 5
  • Ichud Leumi: 4
  • Mafdal: 3
  • Total: 65
There can be little argument for any other scenario, therefore, but to have a Likud led coalition government. The only drama that's left is whether or not Tzippi will decide to join Bibi's coalition and sit in the government, giving them an indestructable super-majority of 93 seats. This would make the most sense, because Kadima's secular left ideology is much closer to Bibi's than the parties to the right he needs in order to form a coalition government.

Netanyahu's contempt for the nationalist movement was clearly evident with his banishment of Moshe Feiglin's Jewish Leadership representation during Likud's primaries. He fears them, hates them, and wants no part of them, but will align with them out of necessity in order to become Prime Minister. If Tzippi and Kadima joins his coalition, it grants him the freedom to move to the left upon taking office and freeze out the influence of the religious nationals.

What we have seen from this election is that the overall mood of the Israeli voter has moved perceptibly to the right, but not the hard right. Most Israelis probably would like to see a coalition government of Likud, Kadima, Labor and Yisrael Beitenu, while pushing out the arab and religious parties.

I think what is missing, though, from this scenario is the representation of the old guard Likud voter. That fierce nationalist who holds traditional religious values while leading a largely secular lifestyle. Lieberman gave a home to that voter, but because he is somewhat anti-religious and endorses compromising land for peace he is an imperfect model.

Probably the candidate who is ideal to head that voting sector, but cannot seem to find the right home, is Ichud Leumi's Arieh Eldad. Though he is not religious himself, he is a true friend and ally of religious zionism and fiercely nationalist. Unfortunately, he falls through the cracks, because he isn't religious enough to win over the religious Zionist vote with his own leadership, nor nationally popular enough to head his own nationalist party into a leadership position in Knesset.

So, what is the answer? I believe a man who can be equally adept in both worlds of nationalism. He should wear a kippah, but, unlike Yaakov Katz, not be a long bearded "frum" in appearance and style. Moshe Feiglin would be absolutely ideal, but he has chosen the path of trying to lead Likud, and as long as Bibi and company are running the show he will be blocked from knesset. Still, he remains our best hope for the future, and I think everyone in the nationalist camp would agree that he remains the undisputed leader of the nationalist movement.

Meanwhile, the collapse of the left was dramatic, though not entirely unexpected. Clearly, there is not enough support for more than one liberal Zionist party at a time. Labor and Kadima are virtually indestinguishable, so why they are divided into two is anyone's guess. Strategically, they should unite as one single party in the future if they hope to have any realistic shot at leading the government.



  1. NRP is considering merging into the Likud Party. Not sure that's what their voters had in mind when they went to the booths, but I can't say I'd be all that shocked. Like Hareidi parties, NRP has always been willing to sell their souls for government handouts and ministery appointments.

    If they had merged with the NU they would have been able to establish an rightwing party of 7 seats that would have kept the coalition in check. Instead, it looks like they might just cave in preemptively.

  2. Electing a kahanist nutlog like Nuttyyahoo should make it easier for Obama to flip Israel the digit.

    Good news.

  3. o.t. - here's a 1956 cartoon and it's so appropriate for today - it's as old as i!

  4. MZ: I agree with your update. The Likud should be able to form a coalition if things stand as they are. The NRP joining the Likud won't help them. It would be more productive for them to join the N.U. And like you say, it's not what their voters were hoping for.

    Then again politics are a corrupt business and in Israel it's that much worse.


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