Three possible scenarios for the next Israeli government

Three possible scenarios for the next Israeli government
Analysis: Two days before the Israeli general elections, and the result is too close to call. Here are some possible outcomes.
5 min read
15 March, 2015
Orthodox Jews rally near Tel Aviv ahead of the general election [AFP]
Right-wing parties are preparing for a massive rally in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square tonight, two days before voting starts in the general election on Tuesday morning.

Initially scheduled for Saturday, the rally was postponed so as not to violate the sanctity of Saturday (Shabbat), to allow religious and conservative elements could participate.

The right-wing, led by the Likud party, expects the rally to be even larger than the one held last week by the externally funded One Million Hands movement, which is calling for the ouster of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Initially, Likud said the movement worked in coordination with the Zionist Camp party, led by Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, but later changed its mind.

Over the past few days, Netanyahu has arged that the activities of the million hands movement and the Victory 15 group - another 'anything but Netanyahu' action coalition - are being funded by "extensive international and global efforts". He said they have received tens of millions of dollars to bring down the ruler and encourage the Israeli left wing and Palestinian citizens to vote to pave the way for a government led by Herzog and Livni.
     Netanyahu and Likud's propaganda machines have been warning against the danger of Palestinian citizens having 15 MKs through a Joint List.

Netanyahu and Likud's propaganda machines have also been warning of the danger of Palestinian citizens securing 15 seats through a Joint List.

It all marks Netanyahu's last desperate attempt to win back right-wing voters and stop them voting even for medium-sized right-wing parties, such as the Jewish Home, led by Naftali Bennett, and the Kulanu party, led by Moshe Kahlon.

Likud's Benny Begin, a former minister and son of Menachem, has already accused Kahlon of being disloyal to it and suggested he would not hesitate to join a coalition government led by Herzog. Likud has failed to receive any guarantees from Kahlon or even the foreign minister and leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu party [“Israel is our home”] Avigdor Liberman that they would not join a government led by Herzog.

Meanwhile, the Zionist Camp coalition, led by Herzog and Livni, has been luring the Jewish Home and Kulanu parties and attempting to cooperate with Haredi parties by taking advantage of its superiority over the Likud in recent polls. 

Three possible scenarios

Despite the absence of a real theme for the campaign, Herzog and Netanyahu agree that negotiations do not include a Palestinian party. The coming government will not be required to offer "final" solutions or critical decisions and none has promised any. 

Israel's political system is parliamentary, which means general elections do not lead to the election of a head of government, but parties in parliament. After elections, the president consults with representatives from the successful parliamentary blocs to determine which party leader should form the next government, usually by prioritising the leader of the largest party.

Israel's president may not select the leader of the largest party, but instead the leader of a party that can form a coalition of over 60 MKs, or be supported by over 60 MKs, even if some of them are not members of the coalition.

This happened in 1992-1995, when over 62 MKs recommended that Rabin should form a government, including 5 Arab MKs representing the Hadash ["the Front"] party and the Arab Democratic Party, which were both outside the coalition. It also happened in 2009, when Livni won 28 seats but failed to form a government. She returned the assignment to the president after refusing to submit to theHaredi terms and conditions.

A right-wing coalition

The first and most likely scenario is that there will be a right-wing government led by Netanyahu and the Haredi parties. This is Netanyahu's preferred scenario, as he has repeatedly stated he would prefer a national government with his natural partners, referring to his historic coalition with Haredi parties and the Jewish Home.

According to the polls, this coalition would be the largest in terms of the number of members, with 67 MKs: 22 from Likud, seven from Shas, seven from Yahadut Hatorah, 12 from the Jewish Home, ten from Kulanu, five from Yisrael Beiteinu and four from Yachad, led by Eli Yishai.

A unity government 
     Shas leader Aryeh Deri joined Rivlin's calling last Friday, announcing he supported a large coalition and a national unity government.

This second scenario was first proposed late last week when Israeli President Reuven Rivlin – originally from Likud – said he was in favour of a national unity government between the Likud and the Zionist Camp. Shas leader Aryeh Deri echoed Rivlin's call last Friday, announcing he supported a large coalition and a national unity government.

Both Netanyahu and Herzog have expressed reservations about such a scenario, but analysts believe it remains realistic, especially if election results return medium-sized parties (Jewish Home, 12; Yesh Atid, 12; Kulanu 10-11).

Netanyahu's last government was unstable precisely because it relied on a large number of smaller parties with their own specfic interests. That eventually led to the dissolution of the Knesset and early elections being held only 20 months after the government was formed.

This unity scenario is a tempting solution for both large parties, as it enables them – if they reach a partnership agreement – to exclude medium-sized parties and "waste" them in the opposition, needing only the votes of one third party, whether it is the Jewish Home or Haredi.

A centre-left government led by Herzog

The third scenario is a left-wing government led by Herzog. But even though Herzog leads by four points in the latest polls, it does not translate into this scenario. On an optimistic projection, Herzog's party might secure 30 seats along with the four or five seats of the Meretz party. He would still need 31 more seats.

Here lies Herzog's problem, as he needs votes from three more parties (if he does not want to depend on votes from the Joint Arab list). He needs support from Yesh Atid (12), Kahlon (10) and the Haredi parties. But Degel Hatorah party leader Yaakov Litzman and Shas leader Aryeh Deri have both said they would not participate in a government that includes Yesh Atid's leader Yair Lapid.

On the other hand, if Herzog decides to depend on support from Arab parties, he will clash with Kalon's announcement that he would not participate in a government based on votes from the Joint List. In short, and outside of a unity government with the Likud, Herzog has little chance of leading the next government.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.