When Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman surprised everyone and decided to join then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's coalition to "change the system of government", the move left even the most veteran political experts at a loss. The coalition was on the verge of collapse, following the Second Lebanon War debacle, and Kadima, headed by Olmert, was tanking in the polls. The party was projected to win an embarrassing eight Knesset seats (as opposed to the 29 seats it had won in the previous election).
The second time Lieberman prompted the most savvy political analysts to scratch their heads in confusion was when he decided to quit that same coalition, in 2008, once again surprising everyone. Lieberman's withdrawal did not topple the coalition, did not instigate general elections, in fact it had very little impact on the political establishment in those days. Now, at least from the looks of things, Lieberman is planning his next surprise. And once again, it is happening at the most puzzling time imaginable.
Political situations can change in a second, and everyone operates with that assumption in mind. However, at least for now, it would not be far-fetched to assume that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be the one to assemble the next coalition following future elections. It would also not be too implausible to assume (again, for now) that instead of one large opposition party, as is the case with Kadima now, the left-wing bloc following the next election will be a fragmented mix of medium-size parties – Labor, Kadima, and Yair Lapid's new party.
For Netanyahu, this is good news. Not only does he not have any real competitors for the post of prime minister, the task of assembling the next coalition appears to be a far simpler affair than it was to assemble the current one. With this in mind, what exactly is Lieberman thinking trying to topple the Likud government? Only he knows the answer to that.
An Israel Hayom poll, conducted by New Wave Research and published Sunday, reveals that if elections were held today, the Likud would win 31 seats in the 120-seat Knesset. Labor, with 17 seats, would be a distant second and Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu would win 14. Kadima, and its newly appointed chairman Shaul Mofaz, is having difficulty taking off, with 13 seats. According to the poll, the right-wing bloc would win approximately 64 seats – similarly to the current configuration.
Atid, the new party formed by political newcomer Yair Lapid, would win 12 seats, and Shas would get 9.
The results for the smaller parties were: United Torah Judaism (5), Meretz (4), Hadash (4), New National Religious Party (3), Ra'am-Ta'al (3), National Democratic Assembly (3) and National Union (2).
Theoretically, Netanyahu could enlist his natural partners to a future coalition. Alternately, if, say, he decides to get back at Lieberman for prematurely bringing down his current coalition, he could invite Mofaz to join the coalition, which would then comprise 63 seats, or Yair Lapid to make a 62-seat coalition. If possible, why not both? The way things look now, both Kadima and Lapid are eager to be in the next government, and if they do join Netanyahu, it would give him a potential 75-seat coalition. Without Lieberman.
From Lieberman's perspective, he could join forces with the Left and the Arab parties (which he loathes) and form an alternate coalition in efforts to block Netanyahu's coalition, thus ensuring his presence in the next government. Maybe that is what he is counting on. Who knows?
According to the Israel Hayom poll, when it comes to suitability to serve as the next prime minister, Netanyahu leaves everyone else in the dust. The survey indicates that 29.1 percent of respondents felt that Netanyahu was most suited for the job, with Lieberman and Labor head Shelly Yachimovich trailing with 9.2% each. Far behind them was Mofaz, with 4.6%.
The poll was conducted last week on the eve of Independence Day among a representative sample of 500 Israelis over the age of 18. The margin of error was ± 4.5%.