On his Channel 2 talk show Thursday, Nissim Mishal paraded a long line of politicians, in the following order: Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett; Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid; Shas Co-Chairman Aryeh Deri; Hatnuah leader Tzipi Livni; Labor head Shelly Yachimovich; and Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar (Likud). It was a long trip toward nothing. Five days before the election, and none of them had anything new to say — except for Bennett who declared that he supports evacuating outposts if they are built on private Palestinian land.
None of the guests took advantage of this long final journey to infuse new air into the debate. If there was any doubt, the final poll came along and confirmed the familiar results: Likud wins 35 seats, Labor wins 16, Habayit Hayehudi wins 14, Shas wins 11, Yesh Atid also wins 11, Hatnuah, Meretz and United Torah Judaism each win 6, the Arab parties collectively win 11, Kadima wins 3 and Strong Israel wins 2 seats.
The most pathetic politician in the line was Deri, of all people, looking like he suddenly got very old. He nervously attacked Likud-Beytenu, understandably. It is because the hopes that had been pinned on him have been dashed. He recently returned to the political scene (after a near 14-year absence), assuming the role of a messiah — the one Shas had been waiting for. On Thursday he reminded viewers that 14 years ago, Shas held 17 Knesset seats. The hope of restoring that glory has now proven to be a pipe dream.
It is already very apparent that Deri has been unsuccessful in increasing Shas' power. The promise that he would bring the party a bag full of Knesset seats has not been fulfilled. On the contrary — Shas failed to scoop up the voters who had become disillusioned with Likud, and that was a grave mistake. Habayit Hayehudi also extinguished any hopes that Shas' power would grow. So if Shas, with Deri at the helm, has failed to grow, what good was bringing him back?
In practice, this was a parade of the disappointed. Livni couldn't disguise her impatience. Apparently she sensed the results of the final poll, which were made public after she left the television studio. Yachimovich was also ill at ease after her big efforts to win 25 Knesset seats fizzled out with a mere 16 seats in the polls. The parade of shame hit a peak when Sa'ar displayed great pleasure at Likud-Beytenu's projected 35 seats, even though this number represents a near 20 percent drop in the parties' combined previous strength.
It is still unclear whether the polls will accurately reflect the final results, which will be revealed in four days' time. But if the polls turn out to be accurate, Israel is headed for a political earthquake. The parties that will make up the coalition will constantly worry that this coalition will be short-lived. Usually, this kind of constant worry ends up being a self-fulfilling prophecy. When coalition partners feel that their days around the cabinet table are numbered, they come up with impossible demands, usually leading to the collapse of the government within two or two and a half years.
It was in this setting that Lapid searched for a way out, and spoke out in favor of a unity government. That is indeed a practical, yet problematic option, but who can find a partner that would join forces with Likud-Beytenu in good faith?