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Right/Religious Victory in Israel Elections 2015

18 December 2014

By Yisrael Ne'eman.


Israel will have early unnecessary, unwelcomed elections in March 2015. One outcome is for sure: the Right-Religious bloc will win and the Center-Left will lose. That being said, Israel is in its usual crisis mode. Alongside the economic slowdown there is no 2015 state budget, the health care system is in crisis with government hospital CEOs warning of collapse, the housing crunch is no better than it was two years ago and possibly worse and many middle class young couples feel they have better options abroad. And that is only the tip of the iceberg on the domestic front.
As important as domestic issues may appear, this time they will be of little note. As usual foreign policy and defense are back to center stage. Beginning with Iran's continued threats to obliterate Israel, virtually all the Zionist parties agree with the hard line approach of more western sanctions to halt Tehran's nuclear program – so at the moment this too is not much of an issue. Nor is there much disagreement in confronting Hamas in Gaza or Hezbollah in Lebanon, if need be. But the Palestinian diplomatic statehood offensive is and will continue to be paramount. Foremost, throughout Europe the Palestinians are gaining increasing support, especially Pres. Mahmoud Abbas and his PLO/Fatah led Palestinian Authority in the West Bank as one parliament after another votes to call for and/or recognize an independent Palestinian State along the 1967 border guidelines. The Palestinians themselves speak of a state within two years. As a result of Israel's Protective Edge operation in Gaza this past summer even the viciously antisemitic Hamas is making gains in certain quarters.
The Likud is the ruling party led by PM Benyamin Netanyahu. Fairly despised in his own party, he lacks serious support in the central committee but is an expert politician. It will be a major surprise if he loses the #1 spot in the Likud primaries on Dec. 31. Tactically he did not allow enough time for serious candidates to get organized. Internally since 2013 the Likud continues shifting further to the Right as much of its membership is no longer from the secular right following of the Revisionist ideologue of Zev Jabotinsky. Rather increasingly membership and those who determine the Knesset list have a national religious ideological commitment. Much of his party believes in continuing settlement in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) at all costs, this being quite similar to the national religious Jewish Home faction led by Economics Minister Naftali Bennet, a party which today is comprised of many right wing secular activists alongside their religious colleagues. Both parties together can be expected to poll some 35 Knesset seats (out of 120) in the upcoming elections.
Supposedly the big news is the unification between the Labor Party led by Yitzhak Herzog and Tzipi Livni's Hatnua faction. They could get as much as 30 seats if we stretch our imaginations beyond its rational limits. Many journalists, who are generally Left-Center get overly excited about the possibility that a Labor/Hatnua alignment will out poll the Likud. But this is not significant at all. Governments are put together with Right or Left wing blocs sometimes bringing in a centrist party to help out. This time the Left, Center and the Arab bloc together will not muster much less than 50% of all Knesset seats if recent polls are any indication of Israeli voter sympathies.
The far Left Zionist party Meretz may obtain 7 seats and former finance minister Yair Lapid's centrist Yesh Atid is not expected to get more than 10 mandates (down from 19 in the 2013 Knesset). The Zionist Center/Left in the best of circumstances may manage a bit over 45 MKs.
The Arab lists, some of whose members like Hanin Zuabi are overtly anti-Israel, have never topped 11 seats but even should they manage a bit more when added to the Zionist Left-Center there is no way to block a Right/Religious coalition. A wildly optimistic prediction could give everyone together 57 seats. 61 are needed for a coalition. And let's face it, no one will align with the two extreme Arab factions nor do the more moderate communists offer much of an option. So it is all a non-starter on the Zionist Left/Center.
Last time Lapid took votes from the Likud but two years later these voters will head back to the mother party or find their way to the new party being organized by Moshe Kachlon, a former Likud minister who broke with the party to organize his own faction and is expected to gain 10 seats. Realistically Leiberman's Yisrael Betainu will poll 8 or more and the two ultra-orthodox haredi parties, United Torah Judaism and Shas will gain at least 15. If we do the math a conservative estimate of Right/Religious polling will bring us to 68 when adding in the Likud and Jewish Home (35 together).
An extremely slim possibility for an alliance between the Left/Center and Yisrael Betainu together with Kachlon's new party could become a coalition. But there would be little agreement on the main issue of the two-state solution with the Palestinians.
The next government will be Right/Religious and most likely led by Netanyahu once again. Despite recent legislation we can expect monies to be funneled increasingly to the haredi factions for housing and yeshiva support. Do not be surprised if less haredim will be encouraged to do army service. Settlement activities will increase and there will be no initiatives on the Palestinian front.
The Palestinian issue however is dominant on the international front. There will be tough choices in the offering which no government will be able to avoid, not even Netanyahu. More about this in the next article.