After all the bickering and name calling, Bibi is on course to form the next government after elections on March 17th. How will he build his next coalition?

Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu

Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu

Polls vary by degrees but the results fit a general pattern that paints a very positive picture for Likud and the Israeli right. Although some polls have Zionist Union (ZU), the merger of Herzog’s Labor Party with Livni’s Hatnuah (the Movement) Party, ahead of Likud by a few seats, most have Likud slightly ahead. The fact is, Bait Yehudi (Home for the Jews) Party leader Naftali Bennet has already stated that he will join his party to Likud to form a single large party bloc after the election to make certain that Likud forms the next government. Zionist Union would thus have to win an overwhelming victory in order to lead the next government; something that is becoming less likely by the day.

Poll 1

According to this GeoCartography poll, Likud is polling at 27 seats, with ZU behind at 23. The combined Arab Party is polling at 12 seats, with Jewish Home and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid (There is a Future) Party tied at 11 seats each. Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu (All of Us) Party is at 9 seats. Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beteinu (Israel is Our Home) Party has been much embattled having been once again charged with all kinds of corruption, they poll at 7 seats.

United Torah Judaism (UTJ) leads the Haredi (Orthodox) Parties with 8 seats. Shas (an Acronym for the Talmud) which was once the largest Haredi party and the one that wielded the greatest influence (no one has forgotten that they brought down Ehud Barak’s government) may not even clear the threshold to earn seats in the Knesset. Shas Party leader Arye Deri has been prosecuted for corruption and served a jail term. They are polling at 4 seats, if they can earn the 3.25% of the vote to earn seats at all. Yahad (Together) which recently split from Shas, is only doing slightly better polling at 5 seats.

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The left wing Merets (Vigor) Party led by the indefatigable Zahava Gal-On is also teetering on the brink as they, too, are polling right on the electoral threshold. Could the next Knesset see the end of Shas and Merets? This would have been unimaginable only one election ago.

All Israeli polls have to be taken with a grain of salt in that many Israeli voters break at the very last minute. We will not have any clue in which direction, if any, they will break until the polls taken the final weekend, by which time actual election results will not be far off. In the 2013 election they broke mostly for Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party and rocketed his faction from about 12 seats to 19. If they break for ZU they might be able to hand them a short-lived electoral victory (although Bibi will probably still form the next government). These late breaking voters may not be enough to unseat Bibi, but they certainly have an opportunity to frustrate him.

The Next Government

If the poll above were the official election results, Likud’s victory would mean that Bibi Netanyahu would be selected by President Reuven “Ruby” Rivlin to form the next government. Jewish Home is a natural coalition partner as is Yisrael Beteinu, but this would only add up to 45 seats, 16 short of the 61 needed to form a governing coalition. Kahlon’s Kulanu Party would also likely join the coalition adding 9 seats. This would still leave Bibi short to the tune of 7 seats. Two unpleasant choices may face him: The Haredi UTJ Party or Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party.

Hiddush, an organization dedicated to religious freedom in Israel, recently published a poll showing that 62% of Israeli voters do not want a religious party in the coalition, and 74% do not want funding increased to religious schools.  Including UTJ would thus annoy a vast majority of the electorate. The Bayit Hayehudi, Yisrael Beteinu, and Kulanu Parties, each a likely coalition partner, have their own disagreements with the Haredi and this would set the coalition on course for serious internal conflict. So would the alternative, however.

The breakup of the previous government was largely blamed on a falling out between Bibi and Yair Lapid. Lapid pressed for many popular reforms in the government, reducing the number of unnecessary ministers and lowering costs. He has advocated for lower taxes and less spending. He also pushed through an amendment to the Basic Law (Israel’s semi-constitution) the electoral reforms under which a party must receive 3.25% in order to earn any seats in the Knesset; the threshold had previously been 2%.

Many people wrote Lapid off as this campaign commenced, and even I must admit to having been down on his future. Yet, Lapid has returned from these dour circumstances and is holding his own at 11 seats. His faction might still be a significant benefit to the coalition. His proposed reforms remain popular. Would last minute votes for Yesh Atid frustrate Bibi and force him back onto good terms with his former adversary?

A coalition with Yesh Atid would still be a victory for those who oppose Bibi in that it would create a coalition that would challenge his policies. Kulanu and Yesh Atid would press for social reforms and a reduced cost of living. Far from “yes men,” Kahlon and Lapid would hold Bibi’s feet to the fire of popular ire with the status quo in Israeli politics.