Shmuel Rosner, whose analysis is generally very good, has been pushing a theory over the last couple of days regarding the will of the Israeli electorate, claiming the elections were “a victory for the center,” and that the public wants a national unity government. Rosner argues that people did not vote along ideological lines, rather most were motivated by their personal preferences among Israeli politicians. With one caveat, I agree with that assertion. Israelis did vote mostly by personal preference, but within their general “camp.” In fact, I would say the strongest “personal” vote was the רק לא ביבי (Just not Bibi) vote, resurrected from Barak’s 1999 campaign.
Many pundits have been saying that the elections results show that the public has realigned itself further to the Right. While the public may have taken a step rightward, there was no real change in public opinion since 2006. In the last elections most still voted for “Sharon’s party” and still viewed Likud as a corrupt machine.
Most importantly, however, Kadima’s image was a right of center party. Kadima has since, pretty clearly, placed itself on to the left. People who see themselves as moderate left voted for Kadima, and fewer voted for Labor, leading to its collapse. That, however, does not account for all of Kadima’s 28 seats. As mentioned, Bibi is a rather polarizing figure in Israel, and the “Just not Bibi” vote helped Kadima immensely, but not enough.
Back to the issue of the public’s desire for a national unity government. There was a significant “Just not Bibi” vote, add to that massive disgust for Kadima and its corruption, and what you get is a significant concern in the “National Camp” (the religious Right). The Jewish Home party and the National Union party only have seven seats between the two of them, down from nine in the 17th Knesset, because many who traditionally vote for these parties (whichever versions are running that year) voted for Likud, concerned that Livni might be the next Prime Minister.
I do not see any strong desire for a unity government. What I do see is a very polarized society, made of many camps, each of which despises the other camps’ ideologies. That being said, I do think the press has been successful in scaring much of the public with their illustration of Lieberman, to a degree that many would prefer any government to one in which Lieberman holds high office.
In any case, the prospect of a national unity government is still pretty unlikely. For one, if Livni sits in this government she will be relegated to the position of Bibi’s sidekick. Next time around, she will be nothing but a has-been, and she doesn’t the stature, or the history, to forge a comeback (even Barak wasn’t able to do so). There is nothing particularly remarkable distinguishing her from others in her party (Meir Shitrit, Roni Bar-on, Avi Dichter, just to name a few). If Livni realizes this, she will not allow herself to disappear into oblivion. And it seems she has, as Kadima members have leaked that if Likud first forms a Right-wing coalition and only then turns to them, they will remain in the Opposition.
However, assuming Kadima does want to join Likud. With who else? The Jewish Home party is rumored to be mulling a merger with Likud – that’s 30 seats, along with Kadima, that makes 58. National Union has already said they will not sit with Livni, and Labor seems determined to remain the Opposition, leaving three parties that would even consider joining such a government: Shas, UTJ and of course, Yisrael Beitenu. Livni’s claim to fame was that she stood up to Shas before the elections, how would that look if she now joined a government that met Shas’ demands?
That leaves Lieberman. Setting aside Livni’s enormous personal price, if she does join a Netanyahu-led coalition, the government’s term will probably play out in one of the following ways:
- With Lieberman – Large stable government for a full term, that will get nothing accomplished (Extremely unlikely).
- With Lieberman – Large Stable government for 12-18 months until it implodes, and either Livni or Lieberman resign, leading to new elections, yet again. (Still unlikely – Israeli politicians are selfish).
- Without Lieberman – very, very unstable government, leading to either new elections, or to a realignment of the coalition in fairly short period of time. (If Peres puts a lot of pressure on Bibi, this is somewhat likely).
I still think the most probably outcome is a 65-seat Right wing coalition, which will not be extremely stable, and is likely to implode over religious-civil disagreement between the Haredi parties and Lieberman, in 1-2 years.
Does anyone have a more optimistic prediction?
EDIT: My math was a bit off, and the only way options 1 and 2 are even feasible is if the Jewish Home-Likud merger does happen. In this scenario a “large” Likud-led government with Kadima would be 78 seats, with both UTJ and Lieberman and a “narrow” one would be 63 seats, with UTJ (even less stable the Right-wing government Bibi can put together).