On the face of it, the election results are a huge victory for the Likud. Bibi was able once again to show himself as the underdog and to galvanize his base, winning more seats than any poll predicted. I once read that Israelis are the only people who tell the truth in polls and lie when they vote — but the vote is what counts.
But these election results are both more interesting and more complicated than how many seats the largest party received. Thirty seats are still only 25% of the Knesset, and much of the Likud’s gains came from their natural coalition partners. Nobody doubts at this point who will form the government, but what government will be formed is completely open.
I have compared the election results to the configuration of the 19th Knesset in different ways. First, the simplest – how many seats each party won in each election, and the difference between the two:
Table 1 shows that the Likud, Avoda, and Arab Parties all made huge gains, but that does not take into account the realignment of parties. So in Table 2 I combined the parties that ran together in either of the elections, and we see that the changes are not as big:
Likud, Labor, and the Arab parties made significant but not revolutionary gains, while all the other parties (except the new Culanu) saw losses. These losses are even more significant when you look at blocs. The religious Jewish parties (Jewish Home, Shas, and Torah Judaism) held a total of 30 seats in the last Knesset, and have won only 21 this time. The 4-seat loss for Shas is connected to the split between Arieh Deri and Eli Yishai; the equal loss for the Jewish Home party is the source of most of Likud’s gain. To look at the blocs more carefully I have divided the parties according to 3 main axes and with a general score of right-left combining the three, according to the following definitions:
Economics: Right: free market is the answer to everything. Center: It’s not their major issue. Center-left: Would like to see more government regulation and social spending, but this is not their major issue. Left: Want more government regulation, spending on social issues, less privatization, more taxation on the wealthy.
Religion: Right: Marriage and other personal status issues should be controlled by religious authorities. Center: Not their big issue. Center-left: Would like to have freedom of religion but this is not their big issue. Left: Want full separation of Church and State. Note that Ra’am-Ta’al, the Islamic party, is on the right here.
Negotiations: Far right: Are in favor of annexing all or large parts of the West Bank unilaterally. Right: Are more diplomatic about it than the far right. Center-right: have decided that pragmatism dictates that a two-state solution is necessary. Center (Haredi parties): This is not their big issue. Center-left: Are in favor of negotiating a 2-state solution, but this is not their big issue. Left: See negotiating a 2-state solution as the necessary step to ensuring the continuation of a Jewish Democratic State. Far Left: Either desire the evacuation of all Jewish settlements as a precondition to a 2-state solution, or prefer a single bi-national state (the Arab parties).
Table 3 shows the division of the parties according to those axes:
Table 4 shows the breakdown according to axes, and this is where it gets interesting. In the category of religion, the center won – many more seats have gone to parties for whom religion is not a major issue. In economics and negotiations, however, the center lost out. The economics scale now tilts to the left, while the negotiations scale is harder to interpret: Hadash’s joining the United Arab List, along with that list’s enlargement by 3 seats, added seats to the far left, while Jewish Home’s loss lowered the far right seats. Altogether, the number of seats for parties that believe in negotiations toward a 2-state solution (center-right to left) went down by 13 to 88 seats. But they are not 88 seats that could sit together in a coalition because of deep disagreements over other issues, mainly religious. Looking at the “general” score we see a gain for the right, which came mainly from the center, not the left.
So the question is, what coalition can be built out of this? The most common assumption is that Netanyahu will turn to his natural allies: Jewish Home and Yisrael Beitenu, and add the new Culanu party and the Haredim, for a 67-seat coalition. This coalition means that we will have no negotiations with the Palestinians, money will continue to flow freely into the settlements at the expense of the periphery within the Green Line and social needs throughout the country, and the religious will decide for us whom and how we marry.
I have some hope for a different coalition: Likud, Zionist Union, Yesh Atid, and Culanu — 4 of the 5 largest parties (the United Arab List already announced it will not sit in the government), with 75 seats. This coalition could stop the flow of money to the territories and start improving our economy not only according to international indicators but according to how the bottom 99% actually live; lower the religious control on our everyday lives; and if not actually enter negotiations with the Palestinians, at least prevent further damage internationally. It is certainly not the coalition I dreamed of 24 hours ago, but it is better than the alternative. We’ll see in the next few weeks if it is possible.