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.