Knesset Math

Observations from the final Israeli election results:

  • A pure left coalition is impossible. Kadima, Labor, and Meretz combine to 44 seats, 16 short of a coalition. Adding the Arab parties – which Tzipi would never do on account of the taboo against including them in government – only gets to 55. The only way for a Likud-less or Yisrael-less Kadima coalition to get to 61 is to include Shas, which showed no interest in forming a coalition with Livni before the elections.
  • A pure right coalition is possible, but would be fragile. Likud, Yisrael, and the conventional far-right parties (United Torah Judaism, National Union, Jewish Home) add up to only 52 seats, meaning that Likud will need Shas – and will thus need to make concessions on economic policy if they don’t want to serve with Kadima. Adding Shas into that equation makes 63 seats, a majority but one that could be broken by the defection of Yisrael, Shas, or UTJ, or by some combination of the other parties.
  • This seems to leave a Kadima-Likud unity government as the most promising option. But there are still questions. Kadima and Likud alone equal 55 seats, meaning another party will need to be added. Shas is the logical choice, but they may opt out if not given economic concessions I don’t think Livni or Netanyahu is eager to make. Labor would work as well, but would Netanyahu accept that? Yisrael would work mathematically, but I can’t imagine Livni accepting that. Most critical, though, is the question of who’d be PM in a Kadima-Likud government. Kadima has one more seat, yes, but only one, and Netanyahu can make a decent case that Likud’s doubling of its share of the Knesset means that he has a mandate to lead.

    So I’m willing to predict a Kadima-Likud unity government. I’m less sure on who’ll be PM, but if I had to bet I’d say Livni will stay on as Foreign Minister and Netanyahu will get the top gig. This is not ideal, certainly, but I can also see a situation where it leads to peace.

    First, assume the necessary preconditions for a peace deal: a Palestinian unity government, a lifting of the blockade on Gaza, and ongoing negotiations between the PA and Tel Aviv. These are big assumptions, of course, but they would be necessary for a deal regardless of election results. Now, suppose Tzipi Livni, as FM, works out a deal with Abbas (or his successor) along the familiar Arab Intiative/Geneva lines. Presumably, this will involve things – giving East Jerusalem to the Palestinians, compensation to refugees, settlement evacuation – that Netanyahu won’t abide by. However, Livni holds a trump card. She can withdraw from the government, endangering Netanyahu’s hold on the premiership. He could conceivably keep it through the conservative coalition outlined above, sure, but he’s rather not go through the trouble. So he agrees to back Livni’s deal to keep the government together. Now, you have a peace deal with the backing of the nation’s most prominent conservative, whose clout would be invaluable in selling the deal to the Israeli public. In short, you get a good deal with widespread popular support.

    Now, this is probably just a crazy scenario that will never come to pass, but it seems at least possible. And possible is a lot better than what I was assuming we’d have: a strong Likud/Yisrael government with no intention of even starting negotiations.

  • 4 thoughts on “Knesset Math

    1. I’m all for liberal political victory in Israel and the peace process and all of that. But giving all of East Jerusalem to the Palestinians is about as realistic as giving half of El Paso back to Mexico. You’re talking about giving up shopping centers, residential subdivisions, a university campus, you name it.
      Compensation to refugees isn’t exactly an easy step, but compared to giving up East Jerusalem, it’s a cakewalk.

    2. Since you’re a self-described leftist, it’s amusing that you describe Kadima-Meretz-Labour as a “pure left coalition”. Kadima, which sprung from Likud, not Labour, is a centre-right force, and Labour long ago migrated to the centre. Meretz and the Arab parties remain on the Israeli left. But everyone else is centre or right of it.

    3. Keshava – Ideology is relative. Kadima and Labor are well to the right of me, but in the context of Israeli politics they’re center-left. I’m well aware of Kadima’s origins, not to mention their participation in the butchery in South Lebanon and Gaza, but compared to the Likud/Yisrael/NU/UTJ/etc. half of the Knesset, it’s left.

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