It happens in our midst during every electoral bout.
Without exception, a
new, hip, cool and trendy political star flickers brightly in our parliamentary
It began in 1977 with the Democratic Movement for Change,
continued through a bewildering array of factions from Tzomet to Shinui and most
bizarrely, Gil, the pensioners’ list of two campaigns ago, which was the
outright craze among adolescent first-time voters.
Coming in as the
second-largest Knesset component, this year’s fad – ex-broadcaster Yair Lapid’s
Yesh Atid – positively dazzled and handily outdid all its predecessor overnight
wonders. Analysts believe it bit into the support of both the rightist and
It remains to be seen how this unknown entity will
behave in the actual arena.
Yesh Atid’s sensation wasn’t the sole
shocker. No fewer than a quarter of a million Israelis voted on Tuesday for
lists that didn’t manage to surmount the Knesset’s relatively low entry
threshold of 2 percent.
That means that eight to nine Knesset seats went
down the drain. The core preferences of these 250,000 voters would have received
due expression, had they only opted for lists more clearly aligned with the bloc
of their leaning, rather than for quasi-nonsensical or ephemeral
But that didn’t happen. It’s time to own up that no change in the
electoral system could fix the lackadaisical recklessness with which too many
Israelis treat their ballots. Voting for the voguish unfamiliar or the lost
cause as a lark is the root anomaly that complicates our coalition construction
task, strengthens the bargaining/ extortion powers of marginal parties and
leaves the mass of mainstream citizens with precisely what they didn’t want and
It’s a familiar pattern that this year looms worse than
The Left cannot form a government despite the apparent parity
between the blocs. The embarrassingly snookered Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu can on paper concoct a coalition, but his challenge is unenviable in
His apparently most viable alternative is to shield himself
with Lapid on one side and the significantly more empowered (at his expense)
Bayit Yehudi at the other. This would suffice for a majority and might suit him
In such a combination, where the Likud straddles the middle,
Netanyahu can avoid kowtowing to the fringes, and conveniently proffer pretexts
for assorted compromises. The trouble is that Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi would a
priori pull in contradictory directions.
Their cross-purposes might leave
Netanyahu in an untenable position.
Even if he succeeds in squaring the
circle, Netanyahu could face the unsavory prospect, from his perspective, of
breaking up traditional alliances between the Likud and the haredi parties. In
the long run this would not be to the Likud’s advantage, but there appears
little chance that Lapid’s demand to end draft exemptions for yeshiva students
can coexist alongside the haredi demand that the exemptions be somehow
These election returns, a nightmare for Netanyahu, leave him
damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.
Prima facie, he should not
dare to disregard the clear disgust of the middle-of-the-road electorate with
the exemptions and the associated economic manifestations of unfair burdens
imposed on the long-suffering majority. In practical terms, however, the
hopeless hodgepodge with which the results present Netanyahu makes bold moves
all the riskier.
Herein lies the great irony of this electoral
The election was advanced by nine months because the previous
Knesset’s composition made passing a 2013 state budget exceedingly difficult.
But the election, geared to create a more rational legislative mix, did the
precise opposite. We may all become nostalgic for the 18th Knesset.
desirable solution is as broad a coalition as possible, one in which no party
can hold the government to ransom. In other words, we would like to see
something approaching what is commonly dubbed a national unity
But that is easier said than done. For that, all potential
partners need to lower expectations and demand less in portfolios, prestige and
policies. Given proven past political proclivities, however, that is likely too
optimistic. Regrettably, we are in for a rough-and-tumble ride till a new
government is formed.
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