Analysis: What’s next?

Just a few months ago, it seemed unfathomable that there would be two elections in a single year, something that had never happened before. And yet, here we are.

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September 18, 2019 00:43
Analysis: What’s next?

A voting box in the last Israeli election in 2015. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Since the destruction of the Second Temple, prophecy is spoken only by children and fools, the Talmud says – and it would be a fool’s errand to try to predict election results with any certainty, after the outcomes of 2015 and April 2019 diverged so differently from the final polls five days before the vote.

The polls are, at best, loose indicators of trends. But they’re the best tool we have to consider what may happen next. Based on those trends, there are quite a few possible outcomes, which in turn allow for different coalition-building scenarios.

No matter what happens, it is almost guaranteed that someone will break a promise. So many parties have said they refuse to sit with so many other parties, that it simply does not add up to 61 – unless, of course, the polls are as far off as they were in the past five years.

First, there’s the worst-case scenario – a third election early in 2020.

Just a few months ago, it seemed unfathomable that there would be two elections in a single year, something that had never happened before. And yet, here we are.

The politicians claim they don’t want this. Yisrael Beytenu resolutely denied any connection to an ad making the rounds on social media that featured party leader Avigdor Liberman saying he will take the country to yet another election if need be.

The downsides of this possibility are clear. A caretaker government cannot make major decisions without being blocked by the attorney-general, which means the country will have been stuck in policy paralysis for over nine months. In addition, elections cost the state over NIS 500 million, between funding for parties and the Central Elections Committee budget. And the loss of working hours for the paid vacation day on Election Day costs the country as much as NIS five billion, based on annual GDP. Ironically, the 120 MKs would continue to be paid while running an election campaign instead of legislating.

Yet it’s not too hard to imagine a situation like the aftermath of April’s election, in which neither side of the political map can form a majority because the possible coalition partners cannot reach an agreement.

If, for example, far-Right party Otzma Yehudit does not clear the 3.25% threshold – the polls have been inconsistent on their chances in the past week and a half – there is a good chance the Right will not reach 61 seats without Yisrael Beytenu, which wants a government without haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties. The Center-Left has been smaller than the Right in most polls, especially in light of the fact that Arab parties have never agreed to join a coalition and tend not to recommend a candidate for prime minister – and anyway, a recommendation does not mean they’re in the coalition.

Joint List leader Ayman Odeh said ahead of this election that he would consider joining a coalition, but set conditions that Blue and White would not be able to meet.

It will be extremely difficult for either Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or Blue and White co-leader Benny Gantz to form a coalition in this scenario.

But that doesn’t mean there must be a third election.

There’s the possibility that has become a Blue and White campaign slogan: “Secular unity government.” Liberman has also said he will try to impose a government of his Yisrael Beytenu party with Blue and White and Likud – haredi parties Shas and UTJ not welcome.

Blue and White has vowed not to sit in a coalition with Netanyahu as long as he is still under a recommended indictment. And Netanyahu has said that Likud will not be in a coalition with Blue and White.

This means that, for this to work out, either Blue and White has to break its promise, or Likud has to give the boot to Netanyahu after 14 years of leadership. When it comes to Blue and White breaking its promises, Gantz is the weaker link, while co-chairman Yair Lapid has been railing against Netanyahu’s alleged corruption for years and is seen more likely to stand his ground; a split between their parties within the Blue and White bloc could be in store.

If Netanyahu is not tasked with forming the coalition, an ouster would be a greater possibility. If Netanyahu leads Likud to victory, but his only coalition option is to bring in parties from the Center-Left, then the Likud is less likely to show him the door. Blue and White is not his only non-right-wing option. He could try to tempt Labor leader Amir Peretz to join his coalition – after all, Peretz was a minister in Netanyahu’s government from 2013-2015. Or to convince Peretz’s No. 2, Orly Levy-Abecassis, to jump ship, as someone who has been an MK in multiple Netanyahu coalitions as a member of the Yisrael Beytenu faction.

Then again, Netanyahu could win a victory so decisive that he won’t need to reach out across the aisle.

This would mean that the Right reaches 61 seats without Yisrael Beytenu. It could happen if Otzma passes the threshold. It’s also possible that generally low turnout will push the Right towards a decisive victory, because Center and Left voters are the ones experts expect not to stay away from the polling stations.

There is voter fatigue in a country that has been in election mode for the past 10 months. There will be 100,000 Israelis out of the country on Election Day, about one-third more than in April, and secular Israelis who are more likely to vote for the Center or Left are also far more likely to travel than religious Israelis.

Haredi voters tend to turn out to vote at a rate far above average, and settlers also have reliably high voter numbers, albeit not as high as haredim. If the general turnout is low, but those voters retain their levels, then Shas, UTJ, Yamina and possibly Likud’s share of the vote will be proportionally greater than the others.

The least-likely scenario – though a possibility – is for Gantz to form the next government without having to reach out to right-wing parties to join him. This is the least likely because of the expected low turnout and because the Joint List is almost guaranteed to remain in the opposition.

In order for the stars to align for Gantz, turnout would have to be high across the board. He would probably have to convince some voters who usually choose the Right to move to his side, which is unlikely considering his campaign messaging has been targeting the Left, including saying in recent days that he will bring Labor’s and Democratic Union’s policies to fruition.

Then again, there could be a total surprise. Few predicted that there would be two elections in one year – an unprecedented event in Israel’s history. No one can really know what will happen after the polls close at 10 p.m. on Election Day – or when the deadline to form a government comes along up to seven weeks later.


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