Israel elects: The Likud Beiteinu balancing act

In the second blogpost in a series on the Israeli elections, Nathalie Tamam explains the coalition between Netanyahu's Likud and the Yisrael Beiteinu party

by Nathalie Tamam on 14 January 2013 12:10

Israel’s globally popular Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is odds on to retain his position following Israel’s election on January 22nd.

Polls are reporting a solid 34 - 38 seats (out of 120) for the newly formed Likud Beiteinu electoral alliance. While the two separate parties currently hold 42 seats combined, the perception is that 34 - 38 seats, while not the sort of mandate Netanyahu had hoped for, will be enough for him to lead Israel’s next governing coalition.

But for Netanyahu this hasn’t been without problems. He is losing support on the right to rising star Naftali Bennett, whose Jewish Home Party is likely to become the third largest party in the Knesset after Likud Beiteinu and Labour (more about Bennett soon).

It also appears Israeli voters are not all that keen on the newly formed Likud Beiteinu alliance. Polling anaylsis shows that it has scared off some of each party's prospective voters. The more religious Likud supporters dislike the secular leader of Yisrael Beiteinu, Avigdor Lieberman, while the liberal wing of Likud cannot abide by some of the more illiberal policies promoted by his party.

Conversely, many Yisrael Beiteinu voters feel their agenda will not be fully considered. They fear that priorities such as introducing secular marriage will be overlooked and they are looking to other parties to fill this gap.

To add insult to injury, over the festive season, Avigdor Lieberman was indicted on charges of fraud more serious than initially thought. Danny Ayalon, Yisrael Beiteinu MK and currently Lieberman’s deputy in the foreign ministry, was controversially excluded as a candidate for the upcoming election. He has since been added to another list; the prosecution’s witnesses list. 

Ayalon was reported as saying ‘This is not revenge. I simply was not ready to lie.’

Lieberman has pledged that he will not take a position in government until he has cleared his name, but this could take months, years even. Meanwhile the fall-out from the indictment has taken its toll based on recent polling. Whereas Likud Beiteinu were consistently polling at around 40 seats in early December they have dropped as low as 34 seats in the New Year.

Under Israeli proportional representation (PR) there are no constituencies, political parties draw up lists of candidates much like we do to elect MEPs. For example if a party wins 10 seats the first 10 candidates on the list win a seat in the Knesset. 

Currently for every two Likud candidates on the list there is one Yisrael Beiteinu candidate and this follows in a two to one format all the way down the list. Netanyahu only has to look at his own candidates for more issues to emerge.

The election of right wing firebrand Moshe Feiglin to number 15 on the Likud list meansthat after years of trying he is all but guaranteed a Knesset seat on the joint slate. This will not please the more moderate Netanyahu who has sought to limit Feiglin’s influence in recent years.

In fact the Likud’s candidates are characterised as being the most right wing in its history. The liberal Likud party of days gone by is disappearing as centre right ministers and moderate influences such as Dan Meridor and Benny Begin were placed in unrealistic positions on the slate list. Conversely, paragons of the nationalist and religious right have found themselves much higher up and in electable positions.

None of this will please Netanyahu who may look to strike a deal with Lieberman to have some of his preferred candidates run in Yisrael Beiteinu positions, higher up the list. It is certain that Netanyahu will want the balancing influence of big names like Meridor and Begin in his cabinet.

Ultimately, Netanyahu is what I would call a ‘tough moderate’. He doesn’t want his next term to be characterised by paralysis from the right. He will do what he can – in difficult circumstances - to maintain party unity while creating a coalition that allows him to make progress in his next term. Ultimately, it is his legacy that is at stake.

This blog is the second in a series on the upcoming Israeli elections. Read the first, on Israeli elections, here.

This article is written in a personal capacity. The views expressed are those of the author's alone

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