At least we get the day off work Tuesday.
It’s small consolation, but left-of-center voters like myself will take any victory that’s going. Even though the final opinion polls before election day made gloomy reading for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu – from a current combined 42 seats, his ill-fated alliance with Yisrael Beytenu is predicted to pull in only 32 seats – no one else looks remotely able of forming the country’s next governing coalition.
With the support of the haredi parties and those to the right of him, Netanyahu will be Israel’s next prime minister, returning to the Prime Minister’s Office for an undeserved third term, following four years of diplomatic inaction and domestic incitement. On the international front, as President Barack Obama said, Netanyahu is leading Israel down a path toward near-total international isolation, while at home, the sudden discovery of a NIS 39 billion budget hole has shattered Netanyahu’s boast of economic competency into tiny pieces.
In any normal election campaign, such devastating developments would severely dent the incumbent’s hopes of returning to office, yet, in this particular election, Netanyahu has never looked in danger of losing office, despite suffering a steady slide in the opinion polls due to the surprising rise in popularity of Naftali Bennett’s Bayit Yehudi party.
Come Wednesday, Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich and Hatnua chairwoman Tzipi Livni really need to ask themselves some serious questions regarding their failure to provide a real alternative to such a poorly performing prime minister.
NETANYAHU WILL also find himself in an uncomfortable position on Wednesday once the votes are counted. Assuming last weekend’s opinion polls are more or less correct, he will be able to form a coalition based just on his natural allies – the haredim and the hard Right. Such a coalition is the stuff of nightmares as far as Netanyahu is concerned.
One of the central tasks facing the next government will be the necessity of implementing an immediate NIS 13 billion budget cut. This will inevitably mean a sharp cutback in government spending, particularly in the country’s generous subsidizing of the haredi sector’s unproductive lifestyle as well as the futile infrastructure investments for isolated settlement outposts that will never be part of Israel in any future peace agreement.
But try telling that to Shas leader Eli Yishai, whose solution to the budget hole is simply to increase the government deficit, and not cut spending or raise taxes, or Bayit Yehudi’s Bennett, who is campaigning on a platform of unrestricted settlement construction, anywhere in the West Bank.
And for all Netanyahu’s tough talk about Judea and Samaria being the cradle of Israel’s existence, the prime minister himself is very wary of allowing himself to be at the mercy of the right wing when it comes to building a coalition. He is still painfully aware that it was the Right that brought down his first government following the Wye River Memorandum he signed with Yasser Arafat in 1998, under which Israel handed over territory in the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority. And this time around, the hard Right, in the shape of Moshe Feiglin and others, is firmly ensconced inside his own Likud party.
THIS MEANS Netanyahu will eagerly look to bring in parties from the Center to act as a counter-balance to the haredim and the Right. Yair Lapid has already flagrantly signaled that his party, Yesh Atid, is waiting for Netanyahu’s call, and Livni too has failed to firmly rule out joining a Netanyahu coalition.
While squaring the circles between the opposing agendas of these parties seems an impossibility – Lapid wants to conscript yeshiva students, Livni is looking for a progress in negotiations with the Palestinians, Shas and United Torah Judaism want to keep their sons safely out of uniform, and Bayit Yehudi will have no truck with the Palestinian Authority – stranger things have happened in Israeli politics, all in the name of “the national good” of course, and not because of personal ambitions for a cabinet seat.
The task of voters like me, who know they have no chance of seeing the government they would like in power, is to vote for parties that definitely won’t join Netanyahu’s government, under any circumstances. The weaker his government, the sooner, one hopes, it is likely to fall.
There are many people saying they can’t be bothered to vote, given that the outcome is already known, but such an attitude is mistaken. Rather than being a passive act of protest, a failure to vote actually ends up strengthening the winning parties under Israel’s system of proportional representation.
This means that in the previous elections, the 40 percent of so apathetic non-voters in Tel Aviv and the 50% of alienated Israeli Arab non-voters in effect gave their backing to the Likud and Yisrael Beyteinu.
So let’s enjoy our holiday on Tuesday, but only after first placing a clear vote against Netanyahu.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.