Barring unforeseen circumstances, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud-Yisrael Beytenu bloc will capture the most seats in the Jan. 22 Knesset elections and be given the chance to form a new Israeli government. But winning the election is the easy part for Netanyahu. The tough part will be forming and managing his new coalition government (and dealing with the challenges that the world will throw at him).
As things stand now in the polls, Netanyahu will lead a party with not much more than a quarter of the Knesset seats, and be forced to craft a complicated coalition with strong, confident and independent-minded partners on both the political Left and Right. Each of these factions will have sufficient seats to press Netanyahu and create a crisis for his government at any stage.
Some pundits think that Netanyahu’s strategy will be a coalition with just about everybody as a partner, so that he will not be dependent on the support of any one faction. But imagine having to manage a coalition that includes disparate ultra-Orthodox, national religious, labor socialist, and liberal-left factions.
Another likely strategy is the formation of a government core and coalition platform with the Labor Party only. After that, Netanyahu will invite others to join but only on the basis of the existing Likud-Labor agreement. This primarily means financial cutbacks in the pork-barrel payouts to the ultra-Orthodox sector.
Obviously, Netanyahu would prefer a coalition in which his base is stronger and in which no partner has the power, alone, to collapse the coalition. In fact, that is what the remaining 30-day campaign is essentially about: How does Netanyahu stop his closest allies/rivals (Shas and Habayit Hayehudi) from siphoning off Likud’s voters.
This is especially true given that the rest of the Israeli political map hasn’t budged much over the past month, nor does it seem likely to. Shelly Yachimovich of Labor is stuck at 17-20 seats; Tzipi Livni at 7-11 seats; Yair Lapid at 8-10 seats; the three Arab factions at 9-11 seats; United Torah Judaism at 5-6 seats; and Zahava Galon of Meretz at 3-5 seats. Only Shas and Habayit Hayehudi are making gains, at Likud’s expense.
Nevertheless, in the all-important “bloc” mathematics, Likud’s natural bloc of right-wing partners clearly holds sway, with a minimum 63-57 advantage over a left-of-center coalition, and as much as a 69-51 advantage.
I would argue that this election is already over. The parties to Netanyahu’s left and right are currently battling it out over a different election: The election they expect two or three years from now after Netanyahu steps down (or his government falls).
This explains why Yachimovich is careful not to attack haredim and the settlers. She’ll need them to form a government several years from now.
This is another way of saying that Netanyahu will have a truly difficult time keeping the factions of his upcoming coalition in line.