According to the law, Friday is the last day until after the election that polls projecting numbers of Knesset seats are allowed to be published. Over the last week, many political figures have been biting their nails waiting for this final poll, which, though it won't necessarily predict accurate results, could seal fates.
Hatnuah leader Tzipi Livni, for example, hoped that the downward trend that she has recently experienced in the polls would turn around in the final stretch, but that is not happening. In fact, the opposite is true. Hatnuah has lost two more Knesset seats in the latest polls, settling in at seven seats. Livni's husband, Naftali Spitzer, said in a heartfelt interview this week that he and his wife have come to terms with the fact that Livni will not be prime minister this time around.
Livni, it is safe to assume, is starting to regret her decision to jump into the political waters at the last minute. If the poll results hold steady until election day, or if Hatnuah ends up winning even fewer seats in the final tally, we are not likely to see Livni in the next Knesset.
The rest of the parties are maintaining an even keel, more or less. Likud-Beytenu is still at 35 seats, like last week. Labor, also like last week, has 17 seats. Habayit Hayehudi has gained a little and is now projected to win 15 seats.
Shas remains stable with 11 seats. Unless the party manages to shock pollsters and pull out a huge surprise on election day, Aryeh Deri's return to Shas and the removal of Eli Yishai from the exclusive chairmanship will turn out to have been grave mistakes. After the election, Shas will wage a battle over ministerial portfolios. Yishai is loyal to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The prime minister trusts him. He doesn’t trust Deri. Up until these lines were being written, the two hadn't even met face to face. This could impact the coalition negotiations between Likud-Beytenu and Shas, if Deri continues to be at the helm.
All the polls predict that the party headed by Rabbi Amnon Yitzhak, Koach Lehashpia (Power to Influence), won't even meet the minimum threshold of votes and make it into the Knesset. But Shas is extremely worried by this party. Things have deteriorated to the point of violent outbursts. Rabbi Haim Amsalem (a former founding member of Shas who has now established his own party and come out against Shas very vocally) is also keeping the heads of the ultra-Orthodox movement awake at night. But the first person to threaten to split up Shas was actually Deri himself. For months before rejoining Shas, Deri terrorized them with the threat that he would establish his own party and that his party would win seven Knesset seats at their expense.
There are two parties that stand to gain from Hatnuah's free fall. Yesh Atid (There is a Future), headed by Yair Lapid, which has gained another seat at Livni's expense in comparison with last week's poll and is now projected to win 12 seats, and Meretz, headed by Zahava Gal-On, which has also gained a seat since last week and is now projected to win five seats. Kadima, according to this poll, like the last one, barely meets the minimum threshold and wins two seats. Strong Israel and Amsalem's Am Shalem (Whole Nation) are not expected to win any seats.
In recent days, the assessment that Labor leader Shelly Yachimovich would try to assemble a Center-Left coalition with Hatnuah and Yesh Atid and the ultra-Orthodox parties after the election has begun to gain steam.
The political establishment has taken note that Yachimovich is doing everything in her power to distance Labor from the Left — cavorting with settlers and embracing the ultra-Orthodox. This week she even said in one interview that anyone who wants to vote for the Left should vote Meretz because Labor is a centrist party.
At a press conference this week, Yachimovich said that she wanted to establish an "economic emergency coalition." In other words, she is saying that the diplomatic process is not of concern to her, signaling to the ultra-Orthodox parties, and possibly even to Habayit Hayehudi head Naftali Bennett, that it is safe to join forces with her.
The problem with perceived victory
This current election is without a real identity. Every party has pulled it in their direction, and no real agenda emerged on any specific issue. In the most recent weeks, the debated issues were security, policy, the economy, equality in sharing the burden, you name it. But the poll suggests that there is one issue that concerns the public more than any other: Cost of living — 39.5 percent of respondents said that this issue has the most impact on their vote.
Beyond the question of whom the public plans to vote for, the poll asked how much of the public believes that the election has already been decided and that Netanyahu will be the next prime minister. It turns out that the vast majority believe that the election was decided long before it ever took place.
This is good news for Netanyahu in that his victory has already become cemented in the collective perception. But this also poses a serious problem. This feeling that the Likud's victory is guaranteed could end up keeping a lot of Likud voters at home, believing that they don't need to cast their votes. Others may become encouraged to vote for the smaller parties, knowing that Likud is big and strong with or without their vote.
The main question, which will remain unanswered even after the votes are tallied, is who will make up the next coalition. Netanyahu's preference is clear: His next coalition will rest on his "natural" partners Habayit Hayehudi, Shas and United Torah Judaism, to which he will add a party or two from the Left.
Netanyahu will want every single right-wing party in the coalition with him. He doesn’t ever want to be in a situation where he is dependent on a party that, during the campaigning, declared that it wants to replace his party at the country's helm. The parties that have made such declarations, like Hatnuah and Yesh Atid, can join his coalition in addition to his natural partners, not in their stead.
The prime minister clearly prefers to include Yesh Atid in the coalition. Livni is definitely an option for him, but a less appealing one. Netanyahu doesn't trust her. If the coalition that Netanyahu envisions comes to fruition, it will be a wide coalition that includes 79 MKs, with Lapid and the ultra-Orthodox parties, or even 81 MKs with Kadima.
And what about the public's preference? The optimal coalition includes Likud-Beytenu, Labor, Yesh Atid and Hatnuah (52.3% of respondents preferred this option). Likud-Beytenu with Habayit Hayehudi, Shas and United Torah Judaism gained almost as much support with 35.5% of respondents preferring that line-up.
Unlike the identity of the next prime minister, which we can say is pretty much known, the identity of the next defense minister is a complete mystery. The natural candidate is, ostensibly, Vice Prime Minister Moshe (Bogie) Ya'alon, but that is his biggest disadvantage. Current Defense Minister Ehud Barak never posed a threat to Netanyahu, not even for a minute. Ya'alon has the potential to become a threat in an inheritance battle. Netanyahu has already gotten burned once, when he appointed the most natural candidate for a top security post, Yitzhak Mordechai, only for the latter to later turn on him. On the other hand, Netanyahu hardly has any worthy alternative candidates for the post. As far as the public is concerned, Ya'alon is seen as the best-suited candidate for the job of defense minister.
Tzipi Hotovely is on her way to the cabinet
As long as we're dealing with personal matters, it seems that there are a few incumbent ministers that will get a nice promotion in the next term. Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar has been mentioned as a possible candidate for the powerful post of finance minister. Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan is also slated for a key economic portfolio. Yisrael Beytenu's Yair Shamir, despite his words of criticism last week, is also expected to be appointed to top ministerial post. Yisrael Beytenu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman will, at least at first, be named chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
According to assessments, Netanyahu is going to appoint two Likud women to ministerial positions. Tzipi Hotovely has been mentioned as a possible candidate, as the woman who won the highest spot on the Likud Knesset list in the party primary. Perhaps she will replace Yuli Edelstein as minister of Information and Diaspora after Edelstein gets promoted to a more prestigious ministry. Hotovely would also gladly accept the position of deputy foreign minister. This week Netanyahu called Hotovely and promised that he would appoint more than one woman to a ministerial job.
In light of the unusually large deficit that was revealed in the budget this week, when the public was asked which budget should be cut first, most responders replied the defense budget. The poll also indicated that though the majority of the public supports the idea of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, 61.9% don't believe that any diplomatic solution is possible. The Left, particularly Livni, has accused Netanyahu of being responsible for peace talks having stalled in recent years. But the majority of the public, according to the poll, actually blames Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Quite a few parties have promised to take on the issue of ultra-Orthodox military recruitment and equality in the sharing of the burden. Indeed, most of the responders agree that this issue needs to be remedied. However, the majority does not want this to be done by coercion. Instead, most people think that the ultra-Orthodox should be allowed to choose between mandatory military service or some form of civilian service.