Israel 2019: Last few days before the election

The 2019 Israeli general election is just days away as I type this. As the campaign has developed, and as we digest the final polls, what I said back in January still looks correct in the essentials, even if some of the details have changed: The right is favored, despite its divisions, while the problem for the left is not that it is divided.

In the time since that post, of course, a new alliance formed in the center, between Benny Gantz’s Israel’s Resilience and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid. It has been leading in most polls ever since. And yet, if the final polling averages are reflected in the actual result, it would be very difficult for Gantz to form a government and much more likely that Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud could do so.

I will use the final average in Jeremy’s Knesset Insider to understand the likely result. This has the Gantz-Lapid alliance, Blue & White, at 30 seats and Likud at 29. We could be looking at a replay of 2009, when Kadima beat Likud by a seat, yet the overall right camp had a majority and formed the government.

The current governing parties (or splinters from current governing parties) would have the following total seats, based on this final polling average: Likud (29), United Torah Judaism (7), United Right (7), New Right (6), Shas (6), Kulanu (5). That adds to 60, which would be one short of the majority needed out of 120. However, another right-wing party, Zehut, is at 6 seats. If it would join, then the coalition has 66 seats. Yisrael Beiteinu is below the threshold of 3.25%, with only 2.9%. It is thus very much within striking distance, and if it made it, would have 4 seats (and various others would be reduced correspondingly). Some individual polls have it over. Thus Netanyahu could be in a position to choose between Yisrael Beiteinu and Zehut, or could be dependent on Zehut. The latter possibility makes be shudder, as does the fact that United Right is getting this many seats in part due to its pact with Otzma Yehudit. This would be a sharply right wing,  nationalist, government.

So, are there other options? What about a B&W government with Likud leading the opposition? It does not add up. You would need B&W (30), Labor (10), Meretz (6), Kulanu (5)–we are at 51 now–and maybe Yisrael Beiteinu if it makes it. Still short of 61. Add in the ultra-Orthodox parties (UTJ and Shas) and you are at 64 without YB. However, as I noted in the earlier post, it is hard to see Lapid and the ultra-Orthodox in the same coalition, given incompatible policy goals on religion and state, and bad blood from the recent past. Zehut leader, Moshe Feiglin, has implied he could sit with B&W, and Gantz has supposedly said in leaked discussions that he would form a government with Zehut (and the ultra-orthodox, but he may not have been speaking with Lapid’s OK on that point). In any case, it is hard enough to imagine Meretz and B&W linking up, harder still if Zehut was in there.

You might be reading this and thinking, well then, divisions on the left are a problem. More to the point, there really is not a left bloc. There are multiple center and left groups, not a coherent center-left camp. In fact, if all the center and left parties had created a single list, their seats likely would be less than the 46 that B&W, Labor, and Meretz combine for in the final polling average. By contrast, the right is divided into several parties: five or six if we count YB and Kulanu (as we should, assuming YB clears the threshold, and even though both might plausibly go with Gantz were he in a stronger position) and seven or eight when we add in the ultra-Orthodox. And this is their strength, not their weakness. They cater to many different “flavors” of right-wing politics, being in a sense more than the sum of their parts. Despite the divisions into separate parties, they are a relatively coherent governing bloc. They should be able to retain power.

One fly in the ointment would be if any of the parties in the 5-6 seats range were actually to fall below the threshold. It is possible, but probably not likely. (Kulanu, for one, seems to have stabilized recently.)

In all likelihood, Netanyahu will remain head of a right/ultra-orthodox coalition that will be even more right-wing than the last one. And this is likely even though Gantz’s list may emerge as the single largest.

11 thoughts on “Israel 2019: Last few days before the election

  1. It will definitely be interesting with so many parties polling in the 3-6 seat range.

    has also had a tendency in the past several elections to underestimate the performance of the Arab parties by at least a seat IIRC.

    For a while I thought the most likely coalition would be a grand coalition between Likud and B&W led by someone other than Netanyahu, but it looks like Netanyahu may cobble together a majority. I have difficulty seeing Netanyahu bringing Yisrael Beiteinu back into the fold unless they’re absolutely necessary for a majority.

  2. I don’t know the details of the Israeli rules. What happens if nobody can form a majority in the Knesset? A new election? Or are minority governments constitutionally possible? Thanks!

    • I’m not sure how the government formation works if they have just 60 seats. There is an investiture vote but I think the government just needs a majority of those voting. If the current trend holds up (60 for the current government, 5 for the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu, 45 for the Zionist center-left, and 10 for majority-Arab parties) I would expect the worst case for Bibi is that the current government continues in a streamlined form (having fewer parties and losing the more secular-leaning New Right) and if it came to an investiture vote with just 60 seats, Yisrael Beiteinu would at worst (for Bibi) abstain.

      But literally a single seat moving in either direction would dramatically change the game. A single seat to Bibi’s camp and he doesn’t even need to worry about Lieberman (and with so many absentee votes outstanding and New Right so close to the threshold, this is the most likely scenario).

      A single seat moving to the peace camp makes Avigdor Lieberman kingmaker. I find it hard to envision him joining a coalition with Kahol Lavon, Labor, and Meretz (supported from outside by the Arab parties), but stranger things have happened in Israeli politics.

  3. If current results hold up (and that is a big if, as absentee ballots often favor right-wing parties, and the New Right is just below the threshold and the Arab Ra’am-Balad just above), I’m not so sure about a clear path for Bibi. His current coalition would hold just 60 of the Knesset’s seats, with 61 needed for a majority. He would have to come to an agreement with Avigdor Lieberman, who left the current coalition, to govern—though it appears unlikely there is any other possible coalition except for an unlikely grand coalition between Netanyahu and Gantz.

    The 3.25% threshold is proving to be very interesting, and defeating its purpose. Ra’am-Balad, an Arab nationalist grouping, is at 3.45%, while New Right is at 3.14%. I think with absentee votes New Right will cross the threshold, and it’s possible Ra’am-Balad will fall. I am certainly rooting for current results to hold as in many ways they represent a best-case scenario for the peace camp (though it is disturbing to think that in 1992 the two main parties of the peace camp, Labor and Meretz, took 56 of 120 seats by themselves and they now have just 10, and that well over 60% of Jewish voters appear to have chosen right-wing parties).

    The polls do appear to have been quite accurate on the Arab vote, which would be a first, though with Arab turnout at a historic low that might just be a lucky coincidence of their undersampling the Arab population finally coinciding with Arab turnout.

  4. The thing that really saddens me is that if Kahol Lavon had managed to make a deal with Orly Levy’s Gesher Party, this is an entirely different conversation. Her 1.7% of the vote is 2 seats, and while not all of it would have gone to the peace camp had she struck a deal with Gantz, it could have been the difference maker.

    Meanwhile it’s quite unlikely United Right would have crossed the threshold had they not made a deal with Otzma Yehudi (the Kahanist, Jewish supremacist party), though I suspect if they hadn’t the New Right and maybe Zehut would have had enough votes to cross the threshold.

    The pre-election deal-making is almost as big as post-election negotiations.

  5. Update: the current votes on the official website show The New Right as holding 3.254% of the votes, passing the threshold by 202 votes. Two seats are at the expense of Kahol Lavon, and one at the expense of Union of Right Wing Parties (which New Right broke away from). The third is currently,at the expense of the Ashkenazi Haredi party Yahadut HaTorah, but the final quote difference is just 3 votes (31434 to 31431) against the a Meretz-Labor bloc, so if there are any more votes to count it could come at Meretz’ expense (marking a net pickup of 6 to the right). Either way Bibi’s bloc will have 62 seats minimum, and 67-68 counting Lieberman.

    There is a slim chance if there are more ballots to count New Right could fall back under the threshold. Ra’am-Balad look safe, but I highly doubt the Arabs split the Joint List again.

    Finally, Israel’s Bader-Ofer method, which allows two parties to combine their votes for d’Hondt calculation purposes, appears to have cost Kahol Lavon (who had no surplus partner) a seat at the expense of a Labor (who had a deal with Meretz). There was no natural partner for Kahol Lavon to ally with.

      • Israeli news media are reporting that New Right fell once more below the threshold, according to a Central Elections Committee announcement,
        The results published on the CEC website show otherwise, but according to one report that’s due to a website bug producing inaccurate figures for all parties – which evidently also affects the downloadable Excel data files, I might add. Not surprisingly, New Right is demanding a recount.

        It’s been also pointed out on social networks that some polling stations were showing more votes cast than eligible voters, thus resulting in turnout rates above 100%. A number of explanations have been put forward, but apparently it boiled down to a problem with the reported eligible voters statistics. I’m rather inclined to believe it’s just sloppiness on the part of CEC, but even so it’s hardly confidence-inspiring.

  6. I don’t know how much of the website is a “bug” as much as it is that the figures haven’t been updated since this morning. I don’t know if they’re not updating due to a bug or some other reason, but they’re the same numbers from 6:30 AM this morning Israeli time.

    Lots of conflicting reports coming out, but the media all seems to agree that New Right has fallen 1,380 votes shy of the threshold.

    The reports are also indicating that Meretz took the final seat at the expense of Yahadut HaTorah. Party leader Tamar Zandberg has attributed them crossing the threshold at all to Arab and Druze voters, saying their vote among them had gone from 15k to 40k. With a 5th seat Meretz will have both an Arab and a Druze in the Knesset.

    The Times of Israel was reporting that Channel 12 news claimed that Likud had earned a 36th seat and Kulanu a 5th seat in the final count, but this is no longer on their homepage.

    The New Right is claiming a conspiracy to hurt the right wing based on their falling below the threshold combined with Meretz getting an extra seat (but as I posed earlier that was already incredibly close mathematically).

    If the current consensus in the English-language Israeli press is accurate, the final seat count is:
    Right-wing 59 (Likud 35, Shas 8, Yahadut haTorah 7, Unión of Right Wing Parties 5, Kulanu 4)
    Yisrael Beiteinu 5
    Zionist Center-Left 46 (Kahol Lavon 35, Labor 6, Meretz 5)
    Majority Arab parties 10 (Hadash-Ta’al 6, Ra’am-Balad 4).

    This turns Yisrael Beiteinu from “gives Bibi some comfort” to absolute kingmaker. Their leader, Avigdor Lieberman, already ruled out endorsing Gantz, but that was before the seat shifted from Yahadut HaTorah to Meretz. It will be interesting to see if his mind changes knowing that Gantz can now become prime minister and not just reach 60.

    Lieberman would not be a good fit at all with the left-wing parties, but he could get disproportionate cabinet seats and achieve one of his long-term goals (conscription of the ultra-Orthodox) in a center government (presumably supported from outside by the Arab parties) which he couldn’t get with Netanyahu.

    • Israel’s CEC has issued a fresh update as of 23:49, and a comparison of the polling station-level data file with the corresponding file from the earlier 8:42 update indicates the problem originated in the special polling stations, which in a number of cases had been reporting valid vote totals of one-sixth to one-half the actual amounts. This in turn resulted in inflated percentages for party lists, which pushed New Right over the 3.25% threshold. Once valid (as well as invalid and overall) vote totals were corrected for the affected polling stations, New Right’s share of the special votes fell from 6% to 4.47%, and its overall share of the vote went from 3.26% to 3.22%.

      Other than that correction, the special polling station results for party lists remained unchanged. Meanwhile, 10,396 of the 10,453 regular polling stations had no change in any of their figures, while 26 had revised numbers; 31 regular polling stations not showing up in the 8:42 update were included in the 23:49 update. However, the latter changes had no effect in New Right’s share of the vote, which remained at 3.14% in regular polling stations.

      • The apparently final totals did see New Right under the threshold.

        The final seat went to Likud, at the expense of Yahadut haTorah. Meretz would have been the 122nd seat, and Kulanu was quite below them. The media all managed to have an aspect of the truth while being wildly wrong.

        Unless a recount changes things (and it’s hard to see a 1300 vote change happening), Likud got the most votes and seats at 36, and 24 seats went to right-wing parties who have already backed Netanyahu. 5 seats went to Yisrael Beiteinu, 45 to the Zionist center-left (35 to Kahol Lavon, 6 Labor, 4 Meretz) and 10 to majority-Arab parties.

        Compared to the 2015 elections, the parties backing Bibi lost a net one seat, while Yisrael Beiteinu lost another, and majority-Arab parties lost 3 seats.

        The Zionist center-left gained 5 seats, though it may be somewhat more center than right due to Gantz’s list (combined with former Likudnik Moshe Ya’alon) being much more centrist than the Zionist Union it replaced as the main center-left party.

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