This is Dr.Gerstenfeld’s newest article on the upcoming elections in Israel.
NETANYAHU, LIVNI, AND HERZOG: WINNERS OF THE WEEK
The definitive decision to dissolve the 19th Knesset was taken on the 8th of December by a vote of 93 for dissolution, and zero against. It also confirmed the election date for the 20th Knesset for March 17, 2015.1
The following days were dominated by two events, one taking place within the center right and one within the center left. On the center right, Netanyahu proposed that the election date for Likud’s party leader be advanced by one week, to December 31st. Many saw this as an effort to block a possible challenge from former Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar. It would be difficult for Sa’ar to organize a campaign to challenge Netanyahu on such short notice, the more so as he had left politics several months before.
Furthermore, Netanyahu proposed that the Likud chairperson would be authorized to name two people of his choice for the 11th and 24th positions on the party’s list of Knesset candidates. On December 10, the Likud’s central committee held a vote on the matter and 65% supported Netanyahu’s proposal.2 This showed that Netanyahu still has the support of a solid majority of the Likud behind him. Sa’ar announced that he would not challenge Netanyahu for the party leadership. It seemed a wise decision on Sa’ar’s part, for even if he had succeeding in winning, the battle would have caused major political damage to the Likud. Several polls found that if Netanyahu were to lose the Likud leadership, the party would get less votes. If MK Moshe Feiglin were to head the list, the Likud would get 18 seats. If MK Danny Danon were to lead, the Likud would get only 17 seats, as opposed to Netanyahu’s 20-plus seats.3 A Channel 10 poll found that if Sa’ar were to head the Likud list, the party would get 20 seats, the same number of seats held when Netanyahu headed the list.4 On the sidelines of the battle within Likud, veteran Minister Limor Livnat announced that she would not participate in the next Knesset elections.5
Many in the media have presented the upcoming elections as those of “everybody against Netanyahu.” The daily Ha’aretz for instance, titled an article with “Israel’s Next Election is a Referendum on Netanyahu.”6 Even 91-year-old former President Shimon Peres intervened publicly, claiming that Netanyahu’s policies have moved Israel further away from peace and security.7 That statement sounded rather bizarre, as both Peres and the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin were responsible for the 1993 Oslo Accords, which have not brought security or peace to Israel.
On the center left, Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog and Hatnuah (“The Movement”) party leader Tzipi Livni agreed on one list, with Herzog in first place and Livni in second. In case they will form the next government, the two agreed that Herzog would be Prime Minister for the first two years and Livni for the following two years. 8 The current numbers two and three on the Hatnuah list, MK Amram Mitzna and MK Amir Peretz, would have reserved slots on the joint list of candidates. Both are former Labor party leaders. The other three MKs of Hatnuah would have no such privileges. A Midgam poll, broadcast on Channel 10, found that the joint list would win 22 seats, as against 20 seats for the Likud.9 In the meantime, former Labor Party minister MK Binyamin Ben Eliezer left the Knesset due to health reasons.10
Even if the list headed by Herzog were to get the most seats in the coming elections, it would not necessarily mean that Labor would be able to form the next government. The overall battle for the majority between the center right and the center left will be one of the main issues in the upcoming months.
A poll conducted by the Rafi Smith Institute on behalf of the Hiddush religious freedom lobbying group found that 62% of the general public is in favor of a government excluding all the ultra-Orthodox parties. 76% of those defining themselves as secular wanted a government without the inclusion of United Torah Judaism and Shas, as did 66% of those defining themselves as religiously traditional, and 80% of immigrants from the former Soviet Union. On the other hand, 65% of the national-religious respondents and 95% of the ultra-Orthodox respondents opposed the exclusion of the ultra-Orthodox parties from the government. The poll also found that 71% of Labor voters and 86% of Meretz and Kadima voters are opposed to the inclusion of ultra-orthodox parties in the next coalition.11
Each political decision taken by the government during an election campaign is perceived by some of their opponents as election propaganda. This was the case with the recent Israeli bombing of the weapons cache in Syria that was destined for Hezbollah. The government was accused by Yesh Atid (“There is a Future”) MK Yifat Kariv that the bombing was done for election purposes.12 Similar accusations were made when Netanyahu suggested that the VAT would be reduced to 0% on basic food items.13
With major moves having already taken place on the center right and the center left, there may be more attention given to other parties in the coming weeks. One issue which is currently being discussed is the establishment of a new party by the Tekumah (“National Union”) faction of the Habayut Hayehudi (“The Jewish Home”) party, to be formed jointly with MK Eli Yishay, who would then break away from the ultra-orthodox Shas party he previously led. If this party were to be formed, it would get seven seats, according to a poll by Minna Tzemach and Rafi Smith,14 .
Former Communications Minister Kahlon, who is establishing a new party called Kulanu (“All of Us”) has been keeping his cards close to his chest. Little is known about where he is planning to position himself on the political spectrum, but it is considered most probable that there will be a heavy emphasis on social issues.
Another issue to be resolved is whether the three Arab parties will be able to form a joint list. Arab participation in the elections is usually much lower than the Jewish participation, and some Arab MKs hope that a joint Arab list will increase Arab participation.15
An unprecedented political development occurred when female activists in the ultra-Orthodox community started a campaign to have at least one woman elected to each ultra-Orthodox party list. Their Facebook group, named after their slogan of “No representation, no vote” group has gotten three thousand likes. At present, female representation is considered to be outside the norm of ultra-Orthodox community’s values.16
The two largest parties and several others are now preparing for internal elections to choose their Knesset candidates. In the other parties, the lists will be determined either by the party leaders or by small forums.
1 Knesset votes to dissolve, sets new elections for March 17, The Times of Israel, 8 December 2014.
8 Gil Hoffman, Herzog, Livni agree to run on a joint list, The Jerusalem Post, 11 December 2014.
9 Gil Hoffman, Netanyahu Faces test in Likud vote today, The Jerusalem Post, 10 December 2014.