Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The election happened; now what?

This post has been edited based on final election results.  I have crossed out incorrect statements rather than delete them, and put corrections inb bold.

It seems like the most interesting part of American elections happens before the voting, while the most interesting part of Israeli elections happens afterwards.  In American elections, it's the polling and the speculation over possible electoral maps that arouses my inner nerd.  But in Israel, polling is notoriously bad (case in point: this year) and there is no electoral map.  Instead, post-election speculation over the coalition is where the fun is to be found. 

So, without further ado, here is what I think is going to happen:

It is very clear at this point that Netanyahu has the best chance of forming a coalition, so presumably President Peres will give the task to him.  Although he is currently supposedly courting Shas, I do not believe that Shas or any Ultra-Orthodox party will be part of the coalition.  The reason is that Yesh Atid, the second largest party, has made conscription of the Ultra-Orthodox a major part of its platform, and therefore probably cannot coexist in a coalition with any Ultra-Orthodox party.  And if Netanyahu cannot get Yesh Atid (or any party to its left) into the coalition, the largest coalition he could possibly build would have 60 seats, including all right-wing and Ultra-Orthodox parties.  This would be one seat short of a majority, and is therefore not a viable option (Edit: Now that the final results are in, a we know that a right wing-Ultra Orthodox coalition would actually have 61 seats, because the Jewish Home party won 12 seats rather than the original 11.  This would allow the right-wing a bare majority, but still too few seats for a stable coalition).

So what will Netanyahu do instead?  Presumably, he'll ditch the Ultra-Orthodox and their 18 seats and replace them with Yesh Atid and its 19.  That gets him to 61 62 seats and a bare majority, but still probably not enough for a stable coalition.  To give the coalition a bit more wiggle room, he could add one or two center-left parties, presumably Hatnua (6 seats), Kadima (2), or both (It is hard to imagine anything that could convince the Labor party to add its 15 seats to a Netanyahu-led coalition).  This coaliton would have between 63 64 and 69 70 seats, which is good enough to start governing.

Of course, there are other possibilities, but at the moment, what I have described seems very likely (everything that I have said is consistent with the conventional wisdom).  If things actually play out this way, how is the next Israeli government likely to act?

Well, the Ultra-Orthodox community can kiss its draft-exemptions good-bye.  This is the single most likely piece of legislation to pass if the coalition turns out the way I expect.  Indeed, the fact that the coalition could pass such a law is presumably a major reason that the option of forming this particular coalition will appeal to all of the parties involved.  This would constitute a major step on a very serious issue that has divided Israel for a long time.  It is hard to imagine that any other conceivable coalition could pass legislation as significant as this with any ease.

On the economy, it seems that there could be points of agreement around strengthening the middle class, although I am not sure exactly what this would look like.

But of course, this is Israel, and everything comes down to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  On that front, we are not going to see the extreme rightward shift that many expected to result from this election.    On the other hand, I doubt that we are going to see much change, either. The coalition would simply be too divided between hard-liners and moderates to accomplish anything serious.  Similarly, it now seems much less likely that Israel will attack Iran, since there will simply be too much opposition within the coalition.

One final note:  I expect that this government will be fairly weak and divided despite achieving Hareidi conscription, and might not last very long.  If new elections are called withing the next two or three years, you heard it here first.

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