Big News Out of Israel

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January 22, 2013 10:47 a.m.
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I’m still trying to get my head around the exact details. But today’s Israeli election does not seem to have gone as most anticipated. It’s not clear to me that the actual government or rather PM will be different. But everyone has been operating on the premise that the Israeli polity is locked on the right or center-right and just getting righter.

But the results didn’t bear that out.Support for the consolidated party of the right, Likud-Beitenu dropped dramatically. And the big picture is that the ‘right’ only seems to have won the barest of majorities according to the early votes — 61 seats. Haaretz currently puts it this way.

Right – 43 seats.
Center-Left – 50 seats.
Ultra-Orthodox – 18 seats.
Arab Parties – 9 seats.

As I said, I don’t think this changes the big picture, which is that Netanyahu will remain Prime Minister. But this looks to be a very brittle coalition. Either one which has a single vote majority or one that puts together parties which just won’t be able to stay in a single coalition for long. The orthodox parties likely form a coalition with the right. But their interests are often — to be candid — biddable and those interests don’t always line up entirely on the traditional left-right axis. Usually, and more so over the years, but not always.

If you’re new to Israeli parliamentary politics, the best way to describe this is to say these results make Netanyahu the only person who has a chance to form a government. But it makes it hard to do. And when he does (close to certain) it will be weak and likely unstable and short-lived.

Notably, the big new party winner, Yesh Atid (19 seats), is another in a long list of parties aimed in significant degree at trimming the outsized power and subsidies enjoyed by the orthodox parties. So it’s pretty hard to figure how you get them together in a coalition together with the orthodox.

What does seem clear is that Netanyahu’s wings will be clipped at least to some degree. And the premise that Israel’s politics are on a consistently, unchangingly path may prove false.

I know a fair amount about Israeli politics. But it’s one of those things that’s so complicated it’s sort of a matter of I know enough to know how much I don’t know, which is quite a lot. So very curious to hear from our Israeli politics observers out there what you think.

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