Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Election Day in Israel or the day when all deals with the devil are possible

Election Day in Israel dawns and the heavens open up with rain. In any other country this might be seen as a ‘bad thing’ but Israel has been encountering a drought so the rains should be most welcome. Will it discourage voters from going to the polls? I suspect only those who weren’t overtly interested in voting will be deterred. This is an election where every single vote could potentially be the one to keep a political party in play.

Once the returns come in and numbers start appearing start looking for elements of consensus. By that I mean, who received the largest mandate, who comes in a strong second and where does the two party platforms converge and where do they separate. How does the mandate of the third party (kingmaker) fit in with the other two? Do any of the special interest parties receive a strong mandate, and if so, where does the mandate fit in with the other two parties, and where does it converge? This will shape what will be possible to accomplish with a coalition government and by extension what will be left undone and unrealized in the party platforms.

I am going to use the Rosner’s poll trend at the Jerusalem Post and play a little game of ‘what if’ just so you can see the possibilities. One caveat, poll trends in Israel can be enormously misleading.

Likud – 26, Labor 15, Kadima – 23, Shas – 10, Israel Beiteinu – 18, Meretz - 6, Torah Judaism – 6, National Union – 4 , Jewish Home - 3, Meimad Green – 0, Hadash - 4, Arab List – 3, Balad -2

For example, a Likud first place and a Kadima second place would suggest voters are looking for a more centrist position. It suggests Likud should be strengthening the Palestinian economy while continuing negotiations with the Palestinians and the person to negotiate with the Palestinians is Bibi rather than Livni but here’s a rub. Livni has stated category she will not enter into any coalition in which her party does not lead. So will Livni live up to her alleged principles and settle for a stint on the backbenches of opposition or allow herself to be woed by Bibi? Does Bibi even need her?

Let’s say Kadima deals and joins Likud, who makes up the third – Shas, Labor or Israel Beiteinu and what do they get for joining? A Likud, Kadima and Labor coalition is definitely possible, and therefore it could by-pass not only Israel Beiteinu but the more religious parties which would flavour the coalition as more secular in nature. This would be a natural fir for the small leftist and Arab parties to join and we would have a big tent secular coalition with Kadima and Labor softening the hard right elements in the Likud party. If anything, Bibi’s juggling of the party list shows this is where he personally is inclined to go. It also has the advantage of not having to pay-out either Shas or Israel Beiteinu both of which will demand big concessions for inclusion.

Let’s say Kadima refuses to join. This leaves Likud with three possibilities for second. Shas, Labor or Israel Beiteinu? Lieberman is a big winner in this scenario and he won’t come cheap but neither will Shas. Will Shas sit with Israel Beiteinu? My best hunch is absolutely yes - despite the heavy rhetoric issued by Shas in the past week. If anything Shas will want to act as a counter-weight to Israel Beiteinu. But will Labor join both Shas and Israel Beiteinu. My gut says no, not if Labor has any hopes of resurrecting itself into a relevant political party come the next election. Labor joining a Likud/Israel Beiteinu/Shas coalition would be its political death knoll. Now a Likud, Labor, Shas, coalition has an advantage in that Labor can bring in the smaller more secular lefty parties to round out the numbers and makes a definite tilt towards the left or Bibi can use Shas as an anchor to bring in the smaller religious parties and save himself both a Livni and Lieberman migraine.

So what if Bibi decides to deal and pay off the devil first if Kadima won’t play? A coalition second with Israel Beiteinu rules out Labor and puts Likud at the mercy of not only Shas but the smaller special interest religious parties to keep his coalition going. Lieberman’s interests will always be clashing with the interest of Shas and the other religious parties. Of course, I could be wrong about Shas, and if so, Bibi does not potentially have the numbers with Israel Beiteinu if the smaller right-wing religious parties fail to carry the trend to make the magic 61 mandates needed to carry any vote in the Knesset. Although, personally this could be the most entertaining Israeli coalition of all time.

If the smaller religious parties fail to make the current trending, but Israel Beiteinu and Likud do, watch for a Kadima lead coalition signifying very little change from the ineptness in which Israel is currently governed.

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